How do you solve a problem like Hamid Karzai? According to his former counterpart at ISAF command, Gen. John Allen, and other pundits, the answer is simple: Ignore him. After all, Allen and others have reasoned, there is no need for the United States to add injury to Karzai's insults by playing into the drama surrounding his refusal to sign a security agreement that would keep U.S. forces in Afghanistan through 2024. While this might be good advice for dealing with an unruly guest at the dinner table, it is probably not the best counsel when making a multi-billion dollar deal with an inveterate gambler-cum-head-of-state with a proven penchant for betting the farm on a pair of deuces.
Many things can and will be said about Afghanistan's president when he finally steps down. Some will say he was crazy, like a fox. Others will say he was a vainglorious old man obsessed with his legacy. Few will extol his poker playing skills. What is important to understand is that after 12 years as head of state, the last thing Karzai wants is to be viewed as a washed-out-has-been with no cards left to play. Only time will tell, however, whether he has aptly chosen the right moment to leverage the deal over a continued U.S.-NATO presence to his own personal benefit. To judge whether matching Karzai's brinksmanship with more brinksmanship is the right course of action, the White House would do well to evaluate the spread, assess who is bluffing whom, and decide whether the stakes are worthwhile.
The release of key Taliban members from the U.S.-run prison at Guantanamo Bay tops the list of call options Karzai has placed on the table. Control of senior Taliban prisoners has been at the center of Karzai's negotiating strategy for years. The only problem is that he hasn't been able to reap many benefits from this approach since Congress and the Pentagon have shown reluctance to play along. Last week, however, on the very same day that Karzai announced he was digging in his heals on the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) and upping the ante, the Senate, in a little noted move, opted to loosen the stringent rules governing the transfer of Guantanamo prisoners to detention facilities in either their home or third-party countries. The move may face tough resistance in the Republican-held House of Representatives, but, as demonstrated by the recent visit of the Department of Defense's special envoy, Paul Lewis, to the island prison, there can be no mistake that a thawing is underway.
Karzai may be right to add these important signals in his "plus" column, but there is no assurance that his timely pronouncements on Guantanamo and chest beating over the U.S. security deal will win him much. Along with the prisoner release demand, Karzai has also pressed for the United States to get serious about restarting negotiations with the Taliban. This presumably means making sure that the Taliban understand that doing business in Kabul and Kandahar will mean doing business with the Karzai clan. The trouble is that the Karzai clan will not likely count for much if it can't deliver the elections to its chosen successor.
Indeed, the Afghan president's greatest fear must be that the clock is running out on his ability to impact the endgame. So he has fallen back on the tried and true approach of injecting uncertainty into the mix, which we've all seen play out in Afghanistan before.
In 2009, we saw 1.2 million fraudulent votes discarded in the presidential and provincial council elections. In 2010, 1.3 million votes were thrown out due to fraud in parliamentary elections; results were disputed for nearly a year before both chambers were finally seated in 2011. In both instances, uncertainty about the timing of the elections exacerbated structural flaws in the political system that remain unresolved. Not surprisingly, Karzai has apparently pressed the head of Afghanistan's Independent Election Commission to postpone the April 2014 polls, a move that would force the White House to rethink its plan to leave 8,000 to 12,000 coalition forces in place as part of an advisory mission.
Karzai knows this well, of course, and so do those in his inner circle who are hoping to benefit from promoting a course of mercurial high-risk gambling. Key among the advocates of this strategy is, reportedly, Abdul Karim Khurram, Karzai's chief of staff and a stalwart member of the conservative wing of the Hezb-i Islami party. Khurram, a confederate of Hezb-i Islami warlord extraordinaire and former Afghan prime minister, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, has earned a reputation for being bloody-minded when it comes to dealings with Americans.
But it is not entirely clear that this time around his interest aligns with Karzai's. Where Karzai is looking to insulate himself from the inevitable blowback that will occur once his principal backers in Washington reduce their investment in the Karzai brand come 2014, those allied with hardcore conservatives like Hekmatyar are looking to blow the whole game up. Amid all the drama this week over the BSA, Hekmatyar went so far as to write a letter to Karzai, threatening to rescind the informal ceasefires that have been in place for the last year or so if Karzai signs the deal. Hekmatyar knows as well as any other of the irreconcilables, like Mullah Mohammed Omar, the spiritual leader of the Taliban, that a sustained U.S. presence in Afghanistan means there is no coming home for them anytime soon. From where Karzai is sitting, these facts considerably increase his bargaining power with Hezb-i Islami and the Taliban.
So is there any "getting to yes" with Karzai on signing the security deal? Probably, but it's not certain that "yes" will mean much. History suggests that the deal the Obama administration cuts with Karzai today may not necessarily hold with his succesors tomorrow. Under the current political dispensation, it is unlikely that the Afghan government will be both willing and able to deliver any time soon on a strategy that calls for the country's beleaguered security forces to secure its borders and contain the insurgency. Although the Afghan National Security Forces have shown marked improvement, they have sustained heavy casualties in the face of the continued resurgence of the Taliban. They also have been heavily impacted by a spike in political factionalism within the upper echelons of the security sector.
Proposals to extend the U.S. military presence beyond 2014 additionally present a troublesome paradox: as long as U.S. forces remain, so too must the parallel legal infrastructure that has grown up around aggressive U.S. counterterrorism operations that have become anathema to many Afghans. The lack of trust between U.S. and Afghan partners over civilian casualties and night raids does not improve prospects much. The continued threat of insider attacks will also place an undue burden on U.S. military leaders to maintain unrealistic force protection measures regardless of whether Western force levels are at 10,000 or 1,000 after 2014. The latter point is all the more salient given Pakistan's apparent unwillingness to abandon its support for the Afghan insurgency. Any expectations that U.S. strategy in the region will profit greatly from a further investment of military assistance should be lowered accordingly.
Washington's post-2014 options are deeply constrained by these rather bitter facts, but it doesn't mean that the "zero option" is the only option. An investment in Afghanistan's stability needs to be an investment in the Afghan people, first and foremost. This means focusing hard on supporting a fair election process, ensuring that the economy remains stable, that rule of law and education programming continues to receive international support, and that women's rights and better health care remain high on the international aid agenda. Washington also needs to focus more on arriving at a political settlement that will hold. Boots on the ground, even in limited numbers, may be an important part of that signaling strategy in the short-term. But if the fraught political gamesmanship that has marked Karzai's tenure isn't brought under control within the next few months, it will be hard to ignore the unruly guest at the dinner table for much longer. The White House should send a strong signal to that it is still serious about a strategy that envisions an Afghanistan that can eventually stand on its own. A post-2014 U.S. strategy that maintains the status quo of insecurity and instability is hardly worth betting 10,000 American lives on and risks seeing the country held hostage to the caprices of ambivalent Afghan leaders for yet another decade.
If the short-term goal is to keep some troops in theater, then the long-term goal must be to leverage continued American assistance to influence the course of a negotiated political settlement that engages both armed and unarmed factions in the Afghan opposition, and to resolve longstanding frictions with Pakistan over military incursions and trade disputes across the Durand line, the disputed border between the two countries. This may mean that Washington and the rest of the international community will have to get creative in seeking solutions to current and future impasses over a continued Western presence in Afghanistan. Throwing money and military resources willy-nilly at the problem of widespread political disenfranchisement in Afghanistan will not bring greater security to the country or its region.
Instead of simply ignoring Karzai, there are a few ways that Washington can signal its seriousness about a responsible drawdown in Afghanistan. The first would be to publicly back the appointment of a U.N. special envoy and negotiating team to facilitate a regional settlement. A second way would be for the United States to engage regional powers, like China, India, Iran, Russia, and Central Asian states, on the possibility of encouraging Pakistan and Afghanistan to agree to refer the bloody, costly, and divisive dispute over the Durand line to the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague. The sooner Washington and its international partners acknowledge the longstanding hostilities between the two countries as the center of gravity in a conflict, the better. Shifting the focus from boots on the ground to building momentum for a negotiated settlement may also mean taking more practical steps to resolve the status of high-level detainees held at Guantanamo Bay in the near term, as Karzai has repeatedly suggested. All of these recommendations may seem distasteful to a war-weary White House fed up with Karzai's antics. But the sooner the Obama administration acknowledges that the conflict in Afghanistan is desperately in need of a negotiated end, the less need there will be to bet billions on propping up compulsive gamblers in Kabul.
Candace Rondeaux is a non-resident research fellow at the Center on National Security at Fordham University Law School. She lived in Kabul from 2008 to 2013, working first as the South Asia bureau chief for the Washington Post, and most recently as the senior analyst in Afghanistan for the International Crisis Group. She is writing a political history of the Afghan security forces and is currently undertaking a mid-career masters at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University.
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The U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime's recently published summary report on Afghanistan's opium harvest in 2013 paints a dire picture on first glance: Estimated opium poppy cultivation expanded by 36 percent and, at 209,000 hectares (ha), set a new record, slightly exceeding the previous record of 193,000 ha in 2007. While estimated opium production in 2013, at 5,500 metric tons, is only the fourth-highest year recorded (well below the 2007 peak level of 7,400 metric tons), it rose steeply -- by almost 50 percent -- from 2012. And despite a modest reduction in opium prices, the volume of drug money -- most of which goes to drug traffickers, their sponsors and associates inside and outside the government, and to warlords and the Taliban insurgency -- also has risen sharply.
However, the temptation to see these developments in alarmist (or even apocalyptic) terms must be resisted. While the growth and spread of the opium economy in 2013 is concerning, it does not represent a fundamental change in the situation, and poorly thought out and misguided reactions would cause more harm than good and could turn out to be more problematic and destabilizing than the rise in opium cultivation and production itself.
Part of the increase in 2013, which was predicted and should not have come as a major surprise, can be attributed to the large year-to-year fluctuations that have always been the norm for Afghanistan's opium economy, especially since 2012 was a year of low yields and production. This reflects the importance of weather and other factors for Afghan agriculture more broadly, with a climate characterized by low and variable precipitation and little in the way of water conservancy investments to stabilize water supplies. Moreover, the 2013 figures are not grossly out of line with longer-term trends in opium cultivation and production. In fact, estimated opium production is exactly in line with those trends (as projected based on 1995-2012 data). Although the cultivated area is somewhat higher (about 25%) than the long-term trend, this is similar to some of the annual fluctuations seen in earlier years.
What 2013 does underline, however, is the resumption of continuing growth of Afghanistan's opium economy after temporary and unsustainable reductions in poppy cultivation and opium production in the years following the 2007 peak. This is not surprising, as the factors which supported those reductions have been dissipating.
First, the withdrawal of U.S. and other international military forces, especially from key opium-producing provinces like Helmand and Kandahar, has been reducing the overall security presence and associated pressure to reduce poppy cultivation, particularly in more remote areas where the Afghan National Army is not able to maintain the level of activities carried out previously by International Security Assistance Forces. Even though international troops were not directly involved in the eradication of poppy fields, their presence provided a security umbrella for counter-narcotics activities and also was used by Afghan officials as a threat against local leaders and farmers to dissuade them from cultivating poppies.
Second, funding for programs promoting alternative livelihoods is being sharply reduced, leaving much smaller potential financial incentives for farmers and other local actors. Even though such programs were not sustainable and were often characterized by inefficiency and waste, adequate funding will clearly be a prerequisite for effective and sustained rural development in the future.
Third, concomitant with foreign troop withdrawals and reductions in international funding, the political leverage to press for counter-narcotics actions is declining. Moreover, the drug issue is likely to be distinctly secondary on the list of political priorities for the United States and other international partners.
Fourth, domestic political and other trends in Afghanistan have weakened the ability to contain, let alone curtail, the opium economy. The 2014-2015 election cycle is distracting from drug issues and will likely lead to avoidance of politically sensitive counter-narcotics actions; some stalwart anti-opium provincial governors have been weakened or changed in the past year or so; there has been some recovery of opium yields from unusually low levels in 2012; and prices for opium remain relatively high despite modest reductions.
These recent trends, which are expected to continue in the future, demonstrate that the counter-narcotics policies implemented during the past decade, reliant as they were on temporary factors and, as in the case of the Helmand "Food Zone," endeavoring to replace opium largely with wheat (a low-value, relatively low labor-intensity crop with no export prospects), were not sustainable. Moreover, the suppression of poppy cultivation in core growing areas, such as the canal area of central Helmand, stimulated a shift of farmers and cultivation to new areas, leading to the further spread and entrenchment of opium.
Even though predictable and occurring for understandable reasons, the adverse impacts of recent developments should not be minimized, including:
However, there are also some mitigating factors that need to be kept in mind:
In any case, knee-jerk reactions and ill thought-out actions against the illicit narcotics trade in Afghanistan will be counterproductive. Whether aerial spraying or massive eradication of the opium crop at one extreme, or attempts to institute licensed opium production for legal pharmaceuticals at the other, there are no "silver bullets." These options, as well as other simplistic solutions, are not implementable or sustainable and will make the situation worse.
What, then, can be done? First, modest expectations and a long-term time horizon are called for on the part of both the international community and the Afghan government; eliminating illicit opium cultivation in Afghanistan most likely will be the work of decades, not years.
Second, there is a need to be prepared for growth in the opium economy in coming years and to avoid hand-wringing or overreaction. In particular, adverse short-term developments and fluctuations should not become an excuse for the international community to sharply cut or stop overall funding for Afghanistan, let alone exit from the country.
Third, preserving gains made in eliminating opium poppy cultivation in localities with favorable resource endowments, good access to water resources, proximity to urban markets, good roads, and at least a modicum of government presence and security will be very important and is certainly possible based on past experience.
Fourth, law enforcement efforts against drug traffickers, drug transport, heroin processing, and money laundering need to continue and be built upon over time, keeping in mind that progress inevitably will be gradual.
Fifth, investments in rural infrastructure -- in particular major water conservancy projects -- will be essential. More generally, broad-based rural development is the way forward over the medium-term to enable rural areas to escape from dependence on opium poppy cultivation, requiring sizable investments and effective programs to this end.
Sixth, value chains for suitable Afghan labor-intensive cash crops that enable them to reach both domestic and export markets will need to be developed. There is no substitute for the private sector to do this -- particularly elements of the international private sector that represent and link to the demand side and will be able to promote and ensure the essential quality and health and safety standards for exports. Creative ways to incentivize the international private sector to engage with Afghanistan in this way will need to be found.
Finally, it has to be recognized that none of this will be easy, that the drug industry will be present in Afghanistan for quite some time, and that keeping modest expectations while avoiding major mistakes and wrong turns on the counter-narcotics front will be essential.
William Byrd is a senior expert at the U.S. Institute of Peace. The views expressed here are his own.
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On November 13, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime released its annual Afghanistan Opium Survey, which found that opium cultivation reached record levels in 2013, despite a decade of attempted counter-narcotics activities by U.S. and NATO forces. It also comes just a few weeks after NATO announced it will scale down its post-2014 troop commitments to Afghanistan.
NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) mission in Afghanistan will conclude at the end of 2014, marking the end of the largest, most expensive, and most politically contentious mission in the alliance's history. The announcement reflects NATO members' eagerness to put the Afghan saga behind them, leaving only a small vanguard of trainers and advisers in place to oversee the transition. Yet Afghanistan's rampant drug trade, now at an all-time high, threatens to upend NATO's decade of fragile progress and mixed successes.
For over a decade, U.S. and NATO policymakers have struggled with the inconvenient truth that the insurgency in Afghanistan is inextricably linked to the opium poppy trade. Opium poppy plants are hardy and durable, require little water, fetch a high market price once processed into heroin, and store without rotting, making them an ideal crop for Afghanistan's inchoate economy and arid mountain climate.
When U.S.-led ISAF forces initially entered Afghanistan in October 2001, they ignored the opium poppy fields, convinced that destroying a primary income source for many Afghans wouldn't earn them any local support. ISAF forces also elicited support from local Afghan warlords to combat insurgent groups with hundreds of millions of dollars. This flooded the Afghan money market, rapidly devaluing the already weak Afghan currency and prompting Afghans to put their money into the only safe and profitable investment in the Afghan economy: opium poppy farming. By 2003, when NATO assumed control of ISAF, Afghanistan's estimated opium income was $4.8 billion, compared with $2.8 billion in foreign aid.
Many U.S. policymakers eventually acknowledged the severity of the burgeoning drug trade problem in Afghanistan, but the diagnosis proved easier than treatment. Indiscriminate eradication, ISAF's next attempted strategy, failed miserably as it significantly undermined the coalition's popularity with Afghans who had no means of income outside opium poppy farming. Moreover, NATO forces could only eradicate the opium poppy fields in areas they controlled. By 2008, 98% of the poppy plants were cultivated in insurgent-controlled areas, and total poppy cultivation in Afghanistan grew to the point where the drug trade's potential export value constituted nearly 25% of the country's GDP.
One of the few positive outcomes from this failed policy was a slight improvement in NATO-Russia relations, as illustrated by the NATO-Russia Council's small Counter Narcotics Training Program (which today remains one of NATO's only formal initiatives tasked with addressing Afghanistan's drug trade). However, while this program represents a modest success story in the otherwise anemic NATO-Russia relationship, it is anchored in Russia's stubborn support for full-scale eradication policies, which stems from the widespread use of Afghan opiates and heroin in Russia.
The Obama administration took stock of these failures and transitioned to a strategy of selectively eradicating poppy farms that were linked to the Taliban, while simultaneously implementing "alternative livelihood efforts" for Afghan farmers. Yet poppies remain the most profitable crop available; farmers can earn up to $203 per kilogram of harvested opium, compared with $1.25 for a kilogram of harvested rice. Additionally, many Afghans doubt whether the alternative crop subsidies that currently counterbalance these price discrepancies will outlast ISAF's 2014 mission mandate.
While the selective eradication concept was promising, NATO provided no framework for its members to coordinate targeted eradication policies across their respective sectors of command. This led to a phenomenon known as "the balloon effect" -- if NATO forces effectively countered opium poppy production in one region, production would simply increase in another region.
All the while, drug money became a vital source of funding for the insurgents. By 2013, the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime estimated that Afghan insurgent groups earned over $200 million annually from the drug trade. In the words of former ISAF commander Gen. David Petraeus: "drug money has been the oxygen in the air that allows these groups to operate."
The unchecked drug trade dovetails Afghanistan's notorious and ossified corruption problems, which pose as large of a threat to Afghanistan's stability as the Taliban. Afghan President Hamid Karzai has made dramatic, but ultimately disingenuous, public promises to tackle corruption. In practice, he has perpetuated corruption and the drug problem through his internal political entanglements, affiliations, and dependencies. For example, Karzai's current anti-corruption czar, Izzatullah Wasifi, was once arrested for attempting to sell $2 million worth of heroin in Las Vegas (an act that Karzai waved off as a "youthful indiscretion"). Karzai vehemently counterattacks allegations of corruption, arguing that the bigger problem in Afghanistan is the corruption in ISAF contracts with private security firms. As this blame game continues, it risks undermining already feeble public confidence in Afghanistan's fledgling democratic institutions and poisoning the roots of Afghanistan's future.
Unfortunately, the window of opportunity for NATO to fully confront Afghanistan's opium poppy trade will likely close with its 2014 drawdown, especially now that NATO's post-2014 commitment represents only a modicum of its initial plans. However, NATO can still take a few relatively low-cost steps to at least curb Afghanistan's drug trade in the short-term, as it lacks the resources for a long-term effort.
The perennial first step is admitting the problem. NATO leaders have quietly acknowledged the dangerous drug trafficking problem Afghanistan faces without offering any real solutions, lest the alliance be labeled as the party in charge of ‘fixing' the drug problem while lacking the means and will to do so. However, after 2014, Afghanistan will take responsibility for its own security. When that happens, NATO will be on the sidelines, with more political breathing room to raise awareness for and offer suggestions to the Afghan government on the opium poppy trade.
Second, NATO can increase its financial and political investments in the Counter Narcotics Training Program, which has potential, but only if the alliance can convince Russia of the pitfalls of indiscriminate eradication. Counter-narcotics units are most effective when they are stringently vetted and highly trained with expert support. Afghanistan cannot produce such units without NATO funding and support.
Third, NATO can provide helicopters to support Afghanistan's counter-narcotics efforts, as they are the only viable way for counter-narcotics units to swiftly respond to and interdict drug traffickers in a mountainous country devoid of transportation infrastructure. As the U.S. Senate Drug Caucus concluded, "there is no end game capability in Afghanistan without the appropriate number of helicopters." As a corollary to interdiction efforts, NATO should leverage its integrated command structures, intelligence sharing capabilities, and well-established intelligence infrastructure in Afghanistan to support these counter-narcotics activities.
Finally, NATO needs to conduct an honest assessment of how the opium poppy trade impacted its own counterinsurgency. A NATO Counter-Narcotics Center of Excellence, a member-initiated and independent in-house think tank, offers one mechanism to provide the post-mortem on ISAF's failed drug policies and serve as NATO's institutional memory for its Afghan mission. As European Union forefather Jean Monet famously said, "the lessons of history are doomed to be forgotten unless they are embedded in institutions."
Though NATO members are reluctant to commit to costly long-term missions in the foreseeable future, the alliance has agreed to provide a residual force of trainers and advisers to the country under the auspices of Operation Resolute Support. Yet many of the threats that NATO's stability and reconstruction initiatives aimed to eliminate still persist. And for better or worse, NATO's reputation as a viable international security alliance is inextricably linked to Afghanistan. If NATO is ever pulled into another major operation, the world will look to Afghanistan as the benchmark for its successes and shortfalls.
NATO's announcement that it is scaling back its already sparse commitments to Afghanistan after 2014 does not augur well for efforts to curb the country's prevalent drug trade and record-high opium cultivation levels. Afghanistan's fate hangs in the balance, and the opium poppy plant may prove heavy enough to tip the scale against the full weight of NATO and a nascent Afghan democracy.
Robbie Gramer staffs the Transatlantic Security Initiative at the Atlantic Council's Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security. He can be reached via email at rgramer@AtlanticCouncil.org.
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Dan Markey, No Exit from Pakistan: America's Tortured Relationship with Islamabad (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013).
Since President Obama took office in 2009, there have been several books published highlighting the deception, failures, and flaws of the relationship between the United States and Pakistan. Most of these books, such as Mark Mazzetti's The Way of the Knife: The CIA, a Secret Army, and a War at the Ends of the Earth, Vali Nasr's The Dispensable Nation: American Foreign Policy in Retreat, and David Sanger's Confront and Conceal: Obama's Secret Wars and Surprising Use of American Power offer insider accounts of the U.S. and Pakistani political dynamics that made it so, with a particular focus on U.S. counterterrorism policies and the war in Afghanistan.
All of these texts open a window into Washington's thinking, infighting, and attempts to fix what has become America's most tortured relationship. Nasr talks about Pakistan's "frenemy" status with the United States and whether it is in the U.S. interest "to stress the friend part or the enemy part." Sanger elaborates on Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, who as Chief of Army Staff "understood the American paranoia about a Pakistani meltdown, and he took advantage of it." Mazzetti gets to the heart of the matter when he says that the CIA's war in places like Pakistan was conceived as "a surgery without complications," but became a "way of the knife" that "created enemies just as it has obliterated them," fomenting "resentment among former allies and at times contribut[ing] to instability even as it has attempted to bring order to chaos."
While American policymaking in Pakistan remains haunted by the demons of the September 11th attacks, even older demons linger on the Pakistani side, among them the memory of U.S. sanctions, American pressure on its nuclear weapons program, and the CIA's reliance on Pakistan's covert support during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. During a 1995 Senate hearing, then-Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia Robin Raphel described the discontent of the Pakistanis, explaining that: "the key impact of sanctions relief is not military or financial. The effect would be primarily in the political realm, creating a sense of faith restored and an unfairness rectified with a country and people who have been loyal friends of the United States over the decades."
Dan Markey's new book, No Exit from Pakistan: America's Tortured Relationship with Islamabad, heeds Raphel's comments and attempts to answer the perennial questions of the relationship: why do they hate us? How did it get so bad? What are America's options for future relations with Pakistan? Markey roots his analysis in French existentialism, of all things. In French philosopher Jean Paul Sartre's play No Exit, "three sinners, all dead to the word" are subject to "eternal torment by each other," each both capable of and vulnerable to the punishment doled out by the others. Building on this idea, No Exit from Pakistan argues that while "Pakistan's leaders tend to be tough negotiators with high thresholds for pain, Washington can cut new deals and level credible threats to achieve U.S. goals. This is not a friendly game, but out of it both sides can still benefit."
Markey spends a good portion of the book summarizing themes, issues, and events since 1947 that explain this mutual vulnerability and mutual gain between the United States and Pakistan. And he covers the full gamut: Cold War cooperation, sanctions, anti-Americanism, energy, trade, infrastructure development, India, China, the Musharraf years, demographics, youth culture, Afghanistan, the Osama bin Laden Raid, the list goes on.
As an introductory primer for understanding what ails the relationship, this approach is constructive, especially in understanding the U.S.-Pakistan dynamics since 9/11. Markey also writes with a directness and honesty that should be appreciated in the context of one of Washington's most sensitive relationships. He accuses the Pakistanis of being addicted to U.S. assistance dollars, while claiming "Washington's top policymakers felt a personal animus towards Pakistan."
Markey also rightly focuses on new political trends and ideas in Pakistani popular culture that have been largely ignored in other accounts of the U.S.-Pakistan relationship, as well as in the course of much of the policymaking in both countries. For example, when discussing Pakistani notions of abandonment and national honor, Markey highlights the nationalist anti-American sentiment that grew from nuclear sanctions both among the government and the Pakistani public. As a sign of progress, he notes the success of Pakistani pop band Beygairat Brigade, who released a video on YouTube in 2011 "with thinly veiled references to a wide cast of Pakistani xenophobes, religious extremists, and conspiracy theorists" with lyrics that "lampoon many of the notions associated with defending Pakistan's national pride."
Herein lies the strength of Markey's analysis - his acknowledgment of the grassroots efforts currently afoot that are trying to transform Pakistani politics. He identifies four complex and often contradictory identities of Pakistan: "the elite-dominated basket case," the "garrison state," a "terrorist incubator," and a "youthful idealist, teeming with energy and reform-minded ambition." Without this information, the casual observer of Pakistani politics can easily conclude that the government and its people are merely confused, duplicitous, careless - or all three.
It is hard to argue with the claim that knowing Pakistan is critical to understanding the U.S.-Pakistan relationship. But what of the Pakistanis - do they not need to understand why the United States behaves the way it does? Markey's approach puts the entire onus on the Americans to understand how complex Pakistan can be.
While he does outline a comprehensive set of options for managing the U.S.-Pakistan relationship - ranging from looking beyond Afghanistan, waiting until after 2014, "defensive isolation" which involves ending formal cooperation, to comprehensive cooperation - he fails to suggest which specific path the countries should take, or even how the United States and Pakistan might prioritize the management or mitigation of threats over time. Markey simply recommends that the solution for this troubled relationship is nothing other than "patient, sustained effort, not by way of quick fixes or neglect" and that "managing or mitigating threats over time is a more realistic expectation." But is he speaking for the United States, Pakistan, or both? It is not clear.
No Exit from Pakistan is more useful as a relationship management strategy than a policy prescription. But the United States and Pakistan seem to have already entered the realm of relationship management over disengagement. This proved true after a NATO cross-border strike in November 2011 at the Salala border post, where over 24 Pakistani soldiers were killed. Pakistan closed NATO routes for nearly seven months and the United States delayed coalition support funds payments. The two countries eventually resumed dialogue after the brief period of disengagement with the tacit acknowledgement that they had gone too far, especially so close to the pending withdrawal of NATO troops from Afghanistan in 2014.
Ultimately, No Exit from Pakistan introduces some uncomfortable questions about ownership and blame in the U.S.-Pakistan relationship. On the one hand, Markey blames the basket case quality of Pakistan on the country's political elites, who "sent their children to private boarding schools while millions of other children never learned to read. Too many sipped cool cucumber soup even as their countrymen struggled to find safe drinking water." But on the other hand, he recognizes that the $1.5 billion-per-year U.S. assistance pledge, known as "Kerry-Lugar-Berman," "was not grounded in an assessment of specific Pakistani development needs or America's ability to meet them."
This is perhaps the true perennial question Markey has set out to answer - who is responsible for Pakistan's problems? He would agree that the United States and Pakistan share in the blame. The decades-long focus of the bilateral relationship on security assistance, militancy, covert activity, and proxy wars has left much unattended by way of development, economics, and stability. Likewise, in Pakistan: A Hard Country, Anatol Lieven pushes for the recognition that the U.S. campaign in Afghanistan "has been responsible for increasing Islamist insurgency and terrorism since 2001." In Mohammed Hanif's A Case of Exploding Mangoes, it becomes acutely apparent whom and what is to blame. The book is a fictional account of the events leading up to the deaths of Pakistani military ruler Gen. Zia ul-Haq and American Ambassador Arnie Raphel in a C-130 plane crash in 1989. As they walk to the plane to enjoy a case of Pakistani mangoes, Zia says to Raphel: "Now we must put our heads together and suck national security."
The controversial writer Salman Rushdie tackled the same question from another angle in his 1983 work of fiction, Shame, which focuses on internal politics in Pakistan and relations between the East and West. Rushdie writes:
Wherever I turn, there is something of which to be ashamed. But shame is like everything else; live with it for long enough and it becomes part of the furniture...you can find shame in every house, burning in an ashtray, hanging framed upon a wall, covering a bed. But nobody notices it any more. And everyone is civilized.
Rushdie's final reminder is simply: "Shame, dear reader, is not the exclusive property of the East."
While the anguish of Sartre's No Exit resonates strongly with the current psychology of the U.S.-Pakistan relationship, Rushdie's commentary on shame is a much stronger parallel. It too recognizes that both countries pursue their own interests even as they inflict harm upon themselves and each other. But it focuses on a much more embarrassing aspect of the mutual vulnerability: the fact that the harm, which has become so prevalent, is unacknowledged. Yet both move forward together because, as Markey says, "this is not a friendly game, but out of it both sides can still benefit," even though there is much to be ashamed about.
Shamila N. Chaudhary is Senior Advisor to Dean Vali R. Nasr at the Johns Hopkins University Paul H. Nitze School for Advanced International Studies and is a Senior South Asia Fellow at the New America Foundation.
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Last week, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif made his first official visit to the United States since being elected by a strong majority to serve his third term in office. The word from the White House is that the bilateral relationship is back on track, and the Prime Minister's public address supports that conclusion. While Sharif continued to condemn U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan's tribal regions -- remarks that may have prompted the leak to the Washington Post of documents implicating at least some Pakistan government officials in secretly endorsing the program -- he also expressed a desire for cooperation on critical issues such as increased trade and foreign investment in Pakistan, cooperation with India, and a willingness to pursue difficult reforms outlined in the recent loan package from the International Monetary Fund. In exchange for the Prime Minister's willingness to play nice, the United States government released $1.6 billion in military assistance to Pakistan that had been held up since 2011.
A renewal of military aid will, for the time being, shore up the relations between Washington and Islamabad. But military aid will not help Pakistan deal with the daunting development challenges it faces: the loss of its territorial integrity to the Taliban and other groups; the rise of sectarian conflict; high youth unemployment; ongoing power blackouts; underfunded health and schooling services; potentially catastrophic water problems and agricultural losses to soil salinization; and a hopelessly low level of tax revenue for the state to address these challenges.
So what about economic development aid, which continued to flow over the last two years as envisioned in the Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act (better known as the Kerry-Lugar-Berman bill)? Washington reported real progress in the aid program toward achieving important medium term goals, but U.S. economic aid, even at 10 times the current levels, cannot serve as a substitute for the decisions and political will the civilian government of Pakistan needs to provide -- whether increasing energy tariffs to attract desperately needed investment in the power sector, or raising and collecting taxes on the country's small but powerful elite.
One point of economic aid is to enable the United States to work alongside Pakistan's civilian government in tackling its considerable challenges, working as a partner and building the sense of shared understanding and trust that can spill over into cooperation on more sensitive security and anti-terrorism issues. That is the vision Richard Holbrooke, the first Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan had, and we believe it is a vision that can still animate the U.S. approach.
Though the current aid program is handicapped by U.S. government mandates to track money instead of results, red tape, security constraints on U.S. staff working in Pakistan, and the difficulty of shifting management of programs from U.S. contractors to local Pakistani institutions, it can be fixed. At least equally, if not more, important, the United States has other tools in its development toolbox beyond traditional aid. These include mechanisms that facilitate trade, such as providing duty-free, quota-free access to U.S. markets, and unleashing the Overseas Private Investment Corporation to encourage private investment in the country's small and medium-sized enterprise sector and its beleaguered energy sector.
U.S. officials are already deploying some of these tools, but to ensure they constitute a coherent development program rather than a haphazard set of projects, we recommend that the State Department and the government of Pakistan establish a formalized Development Dialogue. This should be a discrete component of the Strategic Dialogue Secretary of State John Kerry has agreed to host by March 2014. Discussions could focus on ways to forge a long-term partnership between Pakistan's civilian government and the U.S. government, including but going well beyond traditional aid.
To use the marriage metaphor often invoked to describe the relationship between the United States and Pakistan, a Development Dialogue could help build the resilience that any healthy marriage needs to withstand life's trials and tribulations. It could bolster the countries' vows to work together in good times and in bad by insulating the development agenda from often competing security and diplomatic objectives. And if successful, it could lead to more times of health and fewer times of sickness -- both for the U.S.-Pakistan relationship, and the people of Pakistan.
Nancy Birdsall is the founding president of the Center for Global Development. From 1993 to 1998, she was executive vice president of the Inter-American Development Bank and previously served 14 years in research, policy, and management positions, including director of the Policy Research Department, at the World Bank.
Alexis Sowa is a senior policy analyst at the Center for Global Development focused on the organization's ongoing work on Pakistan and contributing to the Oil-to-Cash initiative. She has worked as a governance advisor in Liberia with the Africa Governance Initiative and as a program and policy manager at Malaria No More UK where she identified, developed, and managed investments in sub-Saharan Africa.
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Dear Mr. President:
Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is meeting with you on Wednesday with high expectations. He is a pragmatic business-oriented politician with a powerful electoral base who has shown magnanimity and deftness in allowing opposition parties to form governments in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Sindh provinces, and he backed the election of a nationalist Baloch as the chief minister in Baluchistan. While this could be seen as a policy of sharing the misery of trying to govern an ungovernable Pakistan, it could also be an attempt to work within a fractured political system. Regardless, he represents a chance to provide continuity for civilian governance in Pakistan and to build a relationship that goes beyond our immediate need to exit Afghanistan gracefully.
On Afghanistan, his advisors, both civil and military, will have told him that we need them badly; Pakistan tends to overestimate its leverage on such security issues. You will have likely been told by many yourself that we can get the Pakistanis to yield, if only we tighten the screws on them -- militarily via our aid program and the use of drone strikes, and economically via threats to withhold assistance directly or from international financial institutions.
We already have some credit on the latter. Pakistan has a new loan package with the International Monetary Fund, that we supported, though it remains to be seen if they will be able to deliver on the tough policy shifts they have to make to sustain the loan. This type of international financial support is an easier way for us to help or squeeze Pakistan without bringing Congress into the game.
As for the game itself, we can play the short game, focusing primarily on Afghanistan. In that case, making smoother payments from the Coalition Support Fund, and replacing Pakistan's heavily-used military materiel will help. Closer collaboration in helping them target their local Taliban fighters would also win points and cooperation.
Or, we could go for the long game and broaden our influence beyond the central government to the business community and the people of Pakistan. Large numbers of Pakistanis hate the United States because they have seen us support unpopular leaders, both civil and military, in the past. Sharif, a popular and business-oriented leader, appears to have the right instincts on a number of issues. He favors trade over aid, and he favors open borders with his neighbors. We could directly assist him by lowering the tariff rates on Pakistani imports, especially those on textiles -- at least to the level of European countries which have already given Pakistan that concession. Call it a level-playing field. At worst, you will lose South Carolina. But we will bring the emerging and powerful Pakistani business community to our side. In turn, it will help Sharif make the case domestically for open trade with India. You could also use quiet diplomacy with India to help it work things out with Pakistan on trade and border issues while waiting for the next Indian elections in spring 2014.
We also have a substantial proportion of the Kerry-Lugar-Berman funds that have not yet been disbursed and though that aid program ends next year, you could extend it for another two years without seeking additional monies and thus use the full $7.5 billion that has been allocated. Though this is not a huge amount when compared with Pakistan's needs, the symbolic value would be substantial.
Currently, Sharif is personally running the foreign, commerce, and defense ministries -- a tall order for any prime minister. But it allows us to deal with him on a wide range of issues at the highest level. His energy ministers are already working with our key officials and even intelligence collaboration exists, regardless of the underlying mistrust. If we can avoid looking for an obvious quid pro quo in the short run, we may be able to help the Pakistanis also play the long game.
In short, we may be able to do business with Sharif. Recall that he did help President George H. W. Bush with Somalia in the early 1990s.
You will have only a short time with him on Wednesday. Instead of having him recite his grievances, it might be better to have him define a path for the future that helps both countries, and offer to help strengthen his position at home as a result. He will get that. You do not get to be prime minister of Pakistan for a record third time without such smarts. Trust him. But tell him you will verify his moves once he gets home.
Shuja Nawaz is the Director of the South Asia Center at the Atlantic Council in Washington, D.C., and is the author of Crossed Swords: Pakistan, Its Army, and the Wars Within.
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Afghanistan has come a long way since the United States and its allies arrived in the country 12 years ago. Daunting challenges remain, but it is a far cry from the failed state and terrorist hideout it was in 2001. Doom-and-gloom press prognostications of an inevitable post-2014 return to Taliban tyranny do not reflect the realities on the ground. The fact is that Afghanistan has a solid chance of becoming significantly more stable, productive, and self-sustaining. This outcome, however, depends upon the will of the United States, its partners, and the leaders Afghans choose in next April's presidential elections.
As political leaders in Washington wrestle with budget issues in the coming months, they should resist the temptation to slash funding for Afghanistan. Outbursts from an outgoing President Hamid Karzai should not obscure larger U.S. interests in Afghanistan and the region. Abandoning Afghanistan now would squander the significant investments and sacrifices the United States and its partners have made there, including the sacrifices still borne by many U.S. service members and their families. The scale of the investments needed over the next few years pale in comparison with the magnitude of the earlier ones, which have enabled the Afghan government and its police and military forces to degrade the Taliban-led insurgency and build the country's institutions and economy.
Although skepticism exists in Congress and even parts of the administration, most officials who have worked on Afghanistan, regardless of their political leanings, tend to have far more confidence in the future of the country. That's why I and many other former officials and diplomats and civil society leaders have come together to support a new initiative - the Alliance in Support of the Afghan People, a bipartisan coalition dedicated to preserving and protecting the progress made by the Afghan people since 2001.
Underlying our confidence is an appreciation of how much Afghanistan has changed for the better. Living standards have improved dramatically across most of the country. Significant advances have taken place in agriculture and healthcare. An unprecedented 8.2 million children and young people, four million of them young women and girls, are now in school in Afghanistan, and 180,000 of them are in university classes. Women in Afghanistan, who suffered unspeakable oppression under the Taliban, have become an increasingly significant voice in Afghan society, calling for minority rights, criticizing corruption, and demanding the rule of law. Fresh, young leaders with passion, commitment, resilience, and incredible talent are already emerging. These twenty- and thirty-somethings are serving in the private sector, non-governmental organizations, government, academia, and many other professions. Though they are Pashtuns, Tajiks, Hazaras, Uzbeks, and often refugees who grew up abroad, they see themselves first and foremost as Afghans. The recent victories of the Afghan soccer and cricket teams, which were celebrated across all ethnic lines and throughout the country, highlighted this new reality.
The Taliban insurgency will not overrun Afghanistan's central government so long as the United States and its partners continue to support the Afghan government and its military and security forces as planned. Some 80 percent of the population is now largely protected from Taliban violence, which has increasingly been confined to the country's more remote regions. The major cities and transportation routes are now secured by the Afghan security forces rather than by foreign troops.
Why surrender this success in the area of security -- the sine qua non for success in every other aspect of communal life?
The next generation of Afghan leaders offers a compelling vision and opportunity for the country's future: Afghanistan can combat corruption and hold increasingly free and fair elections -- undertaken within a legal framework and overseen by independent electoral watchdogs -- that produce officials and legislators acceptable to the country's voters. It can become a country where the political rights of women are fully respected. It can undertake an inclusive peace process that addresses the root causes of conflict. And it can continue to develop its economy, trade, and regional ties.
True, these would be immense achievements for any poor, remote, war-torn country, but this vision is not beyond the reach of Afghanistan, with modest international support. Given all that we have achieved together and all that we have sacrificed together, it would be worse than foolhardy to short change this future now. It would be tragic.
Michèle Flournoy, a former U.S. Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, co-chairs the Center for a New American Security's board of directors; she is also a signatory to the Alliance in Support of the Afghan People, a bipartisan coalition dedicated to preserving and protecting the progress made by the Afghan people since 2001.
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Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's memories of Washington cannot be pretty. He was last in town in July 1999, when he met then-President Bill Clinton to discuss the escalation of tensions amongst India and Pakistan in the Kargil district of Kashmir, an area long disputed between the two neighbors. Four months later, Sharif was out of a job.
Sharif's own Chief of Army Staff, Pervez Musharraf, initiated the coup that led to his ouster after Sharif pulled troops out of Kargil -- at Clinton's urging -- to avoid any further escalation. His entrée into the "military's space" by initiating these troop withdrawals ultimately led to his downfall.
This time around, Sharif is in a much stronger position politically. His party, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, dominates the National Assembly as a result of its landslide victory in the May elections earlier this year. The military, a perpetual thorn in the side of the civilian government, is showing no visible signs of getting in Sharif's way for the time being. The government is about to receive a multi-billion dollar loan from the International Monetary Fund to breathe life back into the country's economy. Sharif's economic team seems to be making all the right noises on other aspects of economic reform, mainly in the privatization of state-owned steel mills and railways, as well as improvements in the energy sector.
This week, Sharif is in Washington, where he will meet President Barack Obama on Wednesday for an official visit at the White House. Meeting with Obama is typically a sign of strength for foreign leaders back home, but in Pakistan, the American president is so unpopular that Sharif wins no domestic brownie points for the meeting. In fact, it could hurt Sharif or be used against him. When he returns to Pakistan, any dramatic moves on security issues could be construed as a response to American pressure, real or not.
Furthermore, the strengths of Sharif's government are irrelevant under the current circumstances, especially on the issues the United States cares about the most. While his engagements with the American business and development communities will be more positive, Sharif will face "hard messages" from Obama and other American officials that won't be as easily answered. Among many issues, high on the White House's agenda will be the drawdown in Afghanistan, the lingering al-Qaeda threat in Pakistan, the recent uptick in tensions with India, and everlasting concerns about the safety of Pakistan's nuclear weapons. High on Pakistan's agenda will be pushing for an end to CIA drone strikes, asking for continued assistance in fighting the Pakistani Taliban, and seeking more information on NATO's plans for withdrawing from Afghanistan.
If it sounds like nothing's changed, that's because it hasn't. A combination of patronage, pressure, and mixed messages has always defined U.S.-Pakistan relations. In December 1998, when Sharif traveled to Washington at Clinton's invitation, security concerns at the time centered on India and nonproliferation. When President Asif Ali Zardari was in Washington in January 2011 for the memorial service of Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Amb. Richard C. Holbrooke, he was lucky Obama even met with him. Some American policy advisors at the time seriously questioned Pakistan's willingness to disrupt the Taliban, viewing the country's "double game" with the militants as reason enough to deny Zardari an audience with Obama.
While military ruler-turned-president Pervez Musharraf received a much warmer reception in Washington during his 2006 trip, he too faced the music when dealing with American officials on Pakistan's relations with al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and its nuclear weapons program. Another military ruler, Gen. Zia ul-Haq, probably enjoyed the highest level of American patronage in the history of Pakistani leaders -- the result of his covert cooperation with the United States in defeating the Soviets in Afghanistan. But during his 1980 visit to Washington, even Zia faced pressure from the Carter administration to give up Islamabad's secretly expanding nuclear program.
Given the trends, it is apparent that Sharif will have the same kind of trip every other Pakistani leader to the United States has had: beset with unrealistic expectations in Washington and Islamabad; a scramble for "deliverables" identifying progress in the relationship; disappointment that the White House did not grant the Pakistanis the coveted "state visit;" mixed messages on both sides about how "hard" and "soft" the talking points were; and an underlying cynicism questioning the existence of the "unholy alliance" between the two countries. In all fairness, the same circumstances apply when American officials travel to Pakistan.
It is easy to get excited at the prospect of high-level engagements; such visits offer a potential pivot moment for bilateral relationships going through difficult times. We all know how badly the United States and Pakistan need a pivot, but the two countries may have already moved beyond that point. The visit occurs at a time when the countries have initiated a period of more subdued, private, and pragmatic engagement. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's trip to Pakistan in August was an initial attempt to "open a new chapter" in the relationship. The recent release of $1.6 billion in military and economic aid was possible because "ties have improved enough to allow the money to flow again." And while the recent decreased frequency of drone strikes does not appear to be coordinated, it probably doesn't hurt.
This new tone and approach can be helped along by strong diplomatic ties at the highest levels of government -- a condition that has been lacking in both U.S. and Pakistani policymaking circles for several years. Sharif's visit to Washington this week gives both him and Obama an opportunity to formally begin a professional relationship that could do just that.
But as in all things U.S. and Pakistan, a heavy dose of reality is recommended. The two countries face many potential pitfalls as they look towards 2014 when NATO departs Afghanistan, and high-level diplomacy alone cannot ensure that Pakistan and the United States successfully avoid them. Coordination between American and Pakistani militaries, intelligence services, diplomats, and development specialists will also be in demand; engagement on many of these fronts is still recovering from the conflicts of the past two years, whether it be the Osama bin Laden raid, the Raymond Davis incident, or the cross-border incident at Salala. At the least, the Sharif-Obama discussion will offer a taste of what challenges lay ahead and one way to engage on them.
Shamila N. Chaudhary is Senior Advisor to Dean Vali R. Nasr at the Johns Hopkins University Paul H. Nitze School for Advanced International Studies and is a Senior South Asia Fellow at the New America Foundation.
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When Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif lands in Washington this weekend, he would not be blamed if he is wracked by mixed feelings. His last visit to the U.S. capital, in July 1999, occurred in the wake of the Kargil adventure with India that he allowed to get out of hand, and which led to a break with his army chief and his eventual ouster as prime minister. Due to the coup by Gen. Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan was in the political doghouse until the then-president became a U.S. ally in the wake of the terrorist attack of 9/11 and the allied invasion of Afghanistan. For over a decade, Musharraf played the Afghanistan and terrorism cards to his advantage, while his own country slid into the depths of militancy and terrorism. Ironically, he never visited his own troops who were fighting and dying inside the border region. Neither did most of Pakistan's civilian leaders.
Sharif promised a change toward more active democratic governance when he took over after the May 2013 elections, but his tenure has had a slow start. If he is to make a difference, he will need to show much more alacrity, planning, and boldness in his dealings at home and abroad. He comes to Washington, a place that Charles Dickens once called city of "magnificent intentions," though a number of realities will challenge him both during and after this visit.
First, Washington is distracted at home by its recent budgetary battle and government shutdown. Abroad, Syria and Iran have stolen the attention of policymakers and lawmakers alike. The good news is that Pakistan is not on the front burner. But the bad news is also that Pakistan is not on the front burner. Sharif will, at best, meet a polite reception, but it is unclear what big issues bring the two countries together, while many issues potentially threaten this tenuous relationship. The impending coalition exit from Afghanistan is a short-term issue. A stable and prosperous Pakistan is what will matter most for the long run. Sharif needs to resist the temptation of showing how important he is to the Americans. If he is strong at home in governing and delivering on the promise of democracy, he will carry greater weight abroad.
Second, Sharif has yet to establish clear civilian control over the military. His tentative steps in handling the upcoming changes in the military's leadership leave more questions on the table than answers. Exercising his constitutional prerogative to appoint military commanders is critical, but so is the timing of those actions. Army chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani gave him an opportunity by publicly announcing that he would in fact be stepping down at the end of November. Sharif muddled that opening by delaying the naming of the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Army chief. What lessons will the Americans draw from this? Most likely that they must continue their military-to-military relationship as the dependable cornerstone of the current engagement with Pakistan, at least until they exit Afghanistan next year.
Third, despite Pakistani claims of victory when the United States agreed on Friday to pay $322 million worth of arrears of Coalition Support Funds (CSF) to Pakistan, the future is uncertain. Pakistani Finance Minister Sen. Ishaq Dar, during his recent visit to Washington to attend the annual meeting of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, said he had taken up the issue of CSF payments with U.S. State and Treasury Departments and they had assured him that payment would be made soon. But the reality has been obfuscated by that cheerful announcement.
CSF payments will cease at the end of 2014. Currently, there are no U.S. plans to support Pakistani military operations beyond next year. Furthermore, no payments will be given to Pakistan for the period when the Ground Lines of Communication with Afghanistan were closed. So forget about those seven months. And U.S. authorities have laid down new rules, meaning that the previous claims for expenditures outside the border region and unrelated to military operations will no longer be entertained for reimbursement. In effect, roughly a third of the previous claims will not be paid. The only bright side is that claims will now be paid on a quarterly basis at the potential rate of roughly $100 million a month.
Fourth, Pakistan has not shown many signs of ground work in Washington since the Sharif government took over. Not on the Hill, nor with the administration. Even the prime minister's own visit was not preceded by high-level preparation. And there is no Pakistani ambassador in town, as yet. All of this leads one to believe that no major issues will actually be discussed or resolved. Afghanistan will loom large. India may be raised. But the United States has its own India agenda that does not always include Pakistan. Congress will likely want to know what will happen to Dr. Shakil Afridi and to Musharraf. Will Sharif be able to provide a clear set of answers?
Pakistan needs a new and clear strategic overview of its region and global relationships. It cannot lurch from crisis to crisis, nor can it rely on the global fear of its nuclear arsenal falling into the wrong hands to be the excuse for aid to a country that has not clearly defined its domestic or foreign policy. It faces a huge domestic terror threat. It needs to open its borders to its neighbors and to trade across the region. Sharif has an opportunity to boldly and unambiguously state where he stands on these issues. If he does so in Washington, he may mark an early turning point in his tenure. Ambiguity and business as usual, however, will not do.
Shuja Nawaz is the Director of the South Asia Center at the Atlantic Council in Washington, D.C., and is the author of Crossed Swords: Pakistan, Its Army, and the Wars Within.
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A recent meeting of 200 Afghan tribal elders that I attended in Kabul illustrates why the 2014 presidential election will be pivotal to recapturing the Afghan people's trust in their government and establishing the kind of stability they -- and the international community -- crave.
The association of elders, known as maliks, was holding its annual meeting in April, gathering representatives from all of Afghanistan's 34 provinces and most of its districts, and inviting government officials and civil society leaders to discuss the critical issues facing their country at the local level. These maliks are key links between the people and the government in Afghanistan -- serving in semi-official roles for resolving disputes, delivering a measure of justice, and providing basic services when possible.
In my meeting with the group, I tried to understand why neither they nor the Afghan security forces, which most often outnumber the Taliban, can resist the militants, even when the elders say the presence of insurgents wreaks havoc on the local population. The maliks reported that they might have no more than 50 Taliban in their area, but as many as 300 to 500 government police officers or army soldiers on the ground. Helmand province alone has 12,000 police officers, according to one provincial official. I also asked the maliks how many people lived in their districts and the answers ranged from 50,000 to 200,000.
These ratios seem stacked in the government's favor. So why couldn't 300 to 500 Afghan security forces successfully take on 50 Taliban fighters, especially when thousands of people would benefit from such efforts?
The 200 elders made the answer clear: it's not about the size of the security forces or the quality of their equipment. It's about whether the Afghan people believe that the government and, by extension, the armed forces represent their interests and will defend their concerns. The public's trust has been eroded by widespread official corruption and efforts by the elite, and even the security forces, to enrich themselves as a hedge against the worst-case scenarios of a dramatic drop in international assistance or a collapse of the government.
From the perspective of these elders, it's as though two groups that don't represent them are fighting each other - one being the government and the other, the Taliban, fighting that government. The majority of ordinary Afghans are indifferent to both. Supporting either side makes no sense, according to the elders, when neither can be trusted to deliver on promises of security, justice, and services.
Before the 2010 U.S.-Afghan military offensive against the Taliban in Helmand province's town of Marja, then-General Stanley McChrystal famously commented that the international troops were prepared, once they vanquished the enemy, to install a "government in a box." The idea was to support a group of Afghan administrators and a provincial governor to immediately provide the services the people needed, along with the security that the troops were to deliver.
But you don't know what's in that box. How many pieces are there? Are they rotten? Building up the Afghan police and army has to be paired with credible governance.
The presidential elections scheduled for April next year provide another chance at that goal. With that date approaching and most international forces due to depart Afghanistan by the end of 2014, the comments of the elders should be a warning bell, not only for the contenders hoping to succeed President Hamid Karzai, but also for the international community and the United States, which has invested so heavily in Afghanistan's future.
International assistance for continuing to strengthen and modernize Afghanistan's security forces is important, of course. But without the trust of the Afghan people, the government that comes to power after the election will stand little chance of faring better than Karzai's regime. The successor also will have little chance of defeating the Taliban, or at least solidifying a strong negotiating position.
When the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan in 1992, they left behind the communist regime of Mohammad Najibullah, who was arguably in a much stronger position than Karzai today. Najibullah had hundreds of planes, thousands of tanks, heavy artillery, and a million-man military force. Yet, none of these could save the regime because people didn't have confidence that the security forces could successfully challenge the formidable, U.S.-backed mujahideen forces. The final blow came when the Soviet Union collapsed, and with it the financing that Najibullah had counted on.
In other words, if we want to save Afghanistan from collapse and another civil war that might lead to the re-establishment of safe havens for terrorist groups, it is imperative that the international community, especially the United States, supports a credible and inclusive electoral process that will be acceptable to the majority of Afghans and win continued international support. Without a government that represents the interests and values of the people, no amount of money and military force will be able to fill the legitimacy vacuum.Shahmahmood Miakhel is the Afghanistan Country Director at the United States Institute of Peace and served as Afghanistan's Deputy Minister of the Interior from 2003 to 2005. The views expressed here are his own.
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No one knows who killed Islam Bibi. The 37-year old police lieutenant, the most senior female officer in southern Afghanistan's dangerous Helmand province, was riding a motorcycle to work in early July with her son-in-law, when she was shot and killed. During her career, she faced many threats, only some of them related to the violent insurgency and rampant narco-trafficking that threaten all Afghan police officers in the province. In April, Bibi told a journalist that her family opposed her working as a police officer, and that her own brother had tried to kill her three times.
In spite of these daily hazards, both inside and outside the home, she took great pride in her work. "I love my country. I feel proud wearing the uniform and I want to try to make Afghanistan a better and stronger country," she said. "I am a policewoman and I will be a policewoman in the future. I'd be proud if my daughter wanted to follow me."
It has been 12 years since the fall of the Taliban government but threats and attacks on Afghan women in public life provide tragic examples of how far away equal rights for women are in Afghanistan. Some Western observers, arguing for a swift disengagement from Afghanistan, seem increasingly convinced that the effort is doomed. This chorus holds that perhaps women's rights are a "Western" imposition on Afghan society that just won't stick. Or perhaps Afghans just aren't ready for these ideas. Maybe even Afghan women themselves don't believe in these rights. In such a traditional society, people say, shaking their heads, what can we do?
Unfortunately, such myopic arguments for scaling back international aid and involvement in women's rights in Afghanistan, at a time when coalition troops are preparing to withdraw from the country, is increasingly common. This thinking displays a clear lack of understanding that the frontline fighters for women's rights in Afghanistan since 2001 have been brave, resilient Afghan women who don't have the luxury of ending their struggle next year. The foreign rush-for-the exits impulse in Afghanistan, and willingness to write-off women's rights along the way, doesn't just overlook the sacrifices that Afghan women have made in fighting for their rights. It ignores the fact that the battle for women's rights has been a long, painful, and continuing process worldwide.
As Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, "Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice." When did the feminist movement begin in the United States, or in the United Kingdom, or in Iceland - which has been ranked several times the best country in the world for women? How long did it take these countries to achieve full gender equality? Wait, ignore that last question - no country has yet achieved full gender equality.
In 1848, the first U.S. women's rights convention was held in Seneca Falls, New York. Seventy-one years later, in 1919, the U.S. constitution was amended to give women the right to vote, but it was not until 1984 that the last state, Mississippi, ratified this amendment. Today, women in the United States earn 77 cents for every dollar earned by a man. In the United Kingdom, women have had the right to vote since 1928, but recent research shows that women's progress towards pay equality has stalled over recent years. And Iceland, the paragon of women's rights, has topped the World Economic Forum's Global Gender Gap Report for four years. The first women's rights organization in Iceland was founded in 1894, and women gained equal voting rights in 1920. But in 2011, Icelandic women were earning 10% less than men, and in 2012, the (female) Icelandic Prime Minister warned that the pay gap had grown.
Similar to the fight for women's rights in these progressive Western countries, the fight for women's rights in Afghanistan will also be a long one. Many historians believe it began in 1880 with reforms instituted by Amir Abdul Rahman Khan and his liberated wife that included raising the age of marriage for girls and granting women the right to divorce and own property. In the 1960s through the 1980s, some Afghan women, at least in urban centers, enjoyed freedoms unheard of today. Photographs of women from that era, showing them with uncovered heads in knee-length skirts wandering about town or rapt in university studies, are akin to postcards from a lost world. But these freedoms were largely unknown in rural areas and have long been at odds with conservative male interpretations of the role of women in society.
The Taliban government that took power in 1996 aimed to, and largely succeeded at, turning back the clock on the fight for gender equality in Afghanistan. Activists kept working - running underground girls' schools, sheltering women fleeing violence, etc. - but they did so at risk of their lives and with the greatest secrecy.
When the Taliban government fell, women seized their new opportunities with joy and passion. They sent their daughters to school and joined the workforce, with many choosing to serve as police officers, soldiers, lawyers, judges, or members of parliament. By entering public life, these women demonstrated that they craved equality as much as women in, say, Iceland. And, thankfully, many Afghan men have also supported women's rights. Afghan men send their daughters to school and support their wives who work. Some have even devoted their careers to fighting for the rights of women.
The West didn't introduce Afghans to women's rights or push them to adopt an unwanted system of gender equality. The main contribution of the international community to women's rights in Afghanistan over the last 12 years has been creating a space -- by putting the government under international scrutiny and providing extensive funding -- that has helped the Afghans fighting for women's rights begin to take back all that was stolen from them by the Taliban.
But today, as foreign military forces and donors withdraw from Afghanistan, there are inescapable signs that the space is shrinking and a rollback in women's rights is under way. Since mid-May, opponents of women's rights - including one of the men Afghan President Hamid Karzai recently appointed to head the country's human rights commission - have been fighting to repeal a key post-2001 law that punishes violence against women.
Then in July, a court reversed the 10-year prison sentences handed down to the in-laws of tortured 13-year-old bride Sahar Gul, unknown assailants assassinated Islam Bibi, a 25% member quota for women on the country's 34 provincial councils was reduced to 20% (after the lower house of parliament tried to ban it entirely), and a new law passed by the lower house of parliament and pending in the upper house could effectively end prosecutions for underage and forced marriages and domestic violence by banning victims and witnesses from testifying against family members in court.
The countries that have committed significant amounts of their national "blood and treasure" to Afghanistan should remember that the road ahead in the struggle for women's rights is a long one - as it has been in every other country. But continuing to put political pressure on the Afghan government to protect these rights, and providing financial support for schools, clinics, hospitals, shelters and legal services for women and girls can make the road shorter and less harrowing in Afghanistan.
Heather Barr is the Afghanistan Researcher at Human Rights Watch.
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"Time is running out" to help nuclear-armed Pakistan's civilian government survive. That is what then-Senator John Kerry (D-MA) said in support of the recommendations of an Atlantic Council report that was released in February 2009. The report, which provided a comprehensive look at Western relations with Pakistan, estimated that, at that point, then-President Asif Ali Zardari's government had between 6 and 12 months to enact successful security and economic policies or face the prospect of collapse. "There is still time for us to be able to help the new civilian government, turn around its economy, stabilize the political system, and address the insurgency" festering in the eastern tribal lands on the Afghan border, said Kerry.
Kerry and his co-sponsor of the report, former senator Chuck Hagel (R-NE), stressed that efforts to defeat extremist Islamist militants in Pakistan and neighboring Afghanistan required help for the people of both strife-torn countries. Speaking from his and Kerry's own experiences in the Vietnam War, Hagel warned that "if you lose the people, you lose everything. We cannot lose the people of Afghanistan, the people of Pakistan."
Today, as Kerry emerges from his first and much delayed visit to Pakistan as the current U.S. Secretary of State, he must have been struck by a sense of déjà vu. The mission that he and Hagel, now the U.S. Secretary of Defense, defined in 2009 remains largely unfinished. Pakistan has another civilian government facing an uphill task after the depradations of the previous one. Complicating the situation is the continuation of U.S. drone attacks on Pakistani soil that anger the Pakistani public and undermine the government's ability to work with the United States, and Pakistan's uncertain behavior regarding the Afghan Taliban that leads it to hedge in bringing them to the reconciliation table. Mistrust still pervades the U.S.-Pakistan relationship.
Despite the change in names and positions, it is clear that with the anticipated clash of expectations regarding the hard economic and political realities of Afghanistan and South Asia, Pakistan today faces a tough task ahead, just as it did in 2009. Righting the U.S.-Pakistan relationship will take a longer-term plan of action, similar to one the Atlantic Council outlined four years ago. No Band-Aid approach of financial flows or even arms and equipment will work. The detailed recommendations provided in the 2009 report, and validated by discussions with Pakistan's leaders, including then-opposition leader Muhammad Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan's current Prime Minister, remain unimplemented. Secretaries Kerry and Hagel might do well to dust off the report they co-sponsored and see if they can persuade the Obama administration and the American public to appreciate the gravity of the situation in South Asia, while emphasizing the need for Pakistan to take ownership of its problems at a faster pace than the new government appears to be doing for now.
Re-starting the dormant Strategic Dialogue, as Kerry did last week, is just one component of this bilateral relationship. Pakistan should rapidly select and appoint a person of intellectual and political heft to be its ambassador in Washington, as leaving that slot vacant has sent a negative signal. The much delayed invitation from the White House to Sharif is welcome as a signal of the rebuilding of a relationship that was badly cracked by the successive events of 2011, truly the annus horribilis of this fraught "friendship." It is critical that the United States uses this reengagement to shore up the civilian government in Pakistan, even while it depends on the Pakistani military to help it exit Afghanistan in an orderly fashion.
It will be even more critical for Pakistan's civilian government to exhibit a strong desire and ability to take charge of key ministries. Energy appears to be front and center, and rightly so, though Sharif may want to rethink taking over the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Defence. Being prime minister is a large enough challenge; he should let other professionals run these key ministries. If civilian supremacy is to be established with confidence in Pakistan, Sharif needs capable persons running those ministries fulltime and should let them rationalize their operations and produce doctrines that are practicable and far-reaching.
Restoring the quality and strength of the federal and provincial bureaucracies is another key element in institutionalizing policy making. Pakistan's problems are too big to be left to the highly personalized "kitchen cabinet" or Punjabi loyalists. Signals matter too. Last week's selection of the new president did not reflect the need to honor a person of national or international standing with that post. Sharif chose a loyalist whom few in Pakistan knew before his nomination. Being a decent person, though necessary, is not enough for the job of Head of State. Sharif had much better candidates at hand but missed an opportunity to restore the grandeur and dignity of the office of President.
On regional relations, Sharif has the right instincts of a good businessman and he needs to stick with them. Open borders with India and Afghanistan can only bring longer-term stability and peace. But then why the inordinate delay in granting India Most Favored Nation status? There will be short-term costs for some trade sectors, for example the Punjabi agriculturalists, but those can be mitigated by persuading India to roll back some of its internal subsidies, allowing both sides to gain from the increase in trade. A regional approach to energy, involving central Asia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India may be far more effective than the pipe dream of the Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline that has floundered on the shoals of global politics and threats of U.S. sanctions. Joint Indo-Pakistan private sector investments may be the key to rapid results, starting with export-oriented operations that will not threaten domestic producers or markets; provided the bureaucrats can be persuaded to loosen their grip on the rules and regulations that weigh things down.
But what can the United States do regarding its relations with Pakistan? First, the administration can create a center of gravity for decision making on Pakistan, ensuring that there is a cohesive and comprehensive approach rather than departmental policies that may run at cross purposes. Then, it needs to ensure buy-in from the Pakistanis for its aid programs, including the Kerry-Lugar-Berman bill for $7.5 billion that will end in 2014. Adding transparency in financial flows from the United States to the central Pakistan government and down to the provincial level will allow the Pakistan people to trust the U.S. assistance and show that promises are measured against ground realities. It should also change the pattern of expenditures so the aid monies flow into Pakistan and stay there, rather than flowing back to Washington consultancies.
Pakistan has the technological and managerial skills to implement, monitor, and evaluate aid projects to international standards. What it lacks is institutional capacity at the policy making level to make sound economic and financial decisions. This will require investing in centers of excellence across the country, where Pakistanis can learn the tools of decision making, and a new breed of managers and entrepreneurs is fostered. Pakistan needs help with its infrastructure, to connect itself internally and with neighbors, but the economy will only stabilize and grow if policy making keeps pace with its growing needs. A stable polity and growing economy will provide a platform for educating and developing productive jobs for the nearly 100 million Pakistani youth that are currently below Pakistan's median age of 22 years.
But this window of opportunity is narrowing for the governments of Pakistan and the United States. Sharif's honeymoon with the Pakistani population will likely be shorter than expected, as high hopes clash with the inability of the government to deliver results rapidly. As such, he will need to approach these issues in parallel rather than seriatim. To best help Sharif in these efforts, the United States would do well to review, update, and implement the recommendations that then-Senators Kerry and Hagel supported in 2009. If it does not, it will likely repeat the bilateral relationship rollercoaster ride of the past decade and suffer the consequences.
Shuja Nawaz is the director of the South Asia Center at the Atlantic Council in Washington, D.C.
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The game of "Chicken" typically involves two drivers, with cars on a converging course, daring one another to either swerve out of the way or risk a head-on collision. Ideally, one driver swerves and the other wins. The danger, of course, is that both drivers will believe that the other will swerve first and they will end up colliding. In this worst-case scenario, the size of the vehicle and its capacity to absorb the impact are key.
In an Afghan context, the U.S. and Afghan governments are on a collision course in a number of areas and unless cooler heads can prevail, the eventual crash will be devastating, yet totally uneven. For the United States, its international credibility will be undoubtedly damaged; but for the Afghan government, the fallout will be disastrous, and signal the beginning of the end for this period of relative progress and prosperity. Two prime examples of the stakes are the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA), which will determine the size and shape of the U.S. mission post 2014, and the tussle over taxing U.S. government contractors supporting military operations in Afghanistan.
Following the ill-choreographed opening of the Taliban political office in Qatar, Afghan President Hamid Karzai put the BSA on pause. Even though U.S. officials were quick to admit that the Doha event was embarrassing and not what they had intended, they also made it clear that they had acted with Karzai's blessing. That really should have been the end of it and the negotiations should have resumed.
Karzai's decision to halt the BSA talks was yet another attempt to challenge the United States when Afghan sovereignty was on the line. But with the negotiations still stalled, his move may prove to be a pyrrhic victory. One of the unintended consequences of his decision is that a "zero option" (keeping no U.S. forces in Afghanistan after 2014), which had little support in Washington and in NATO-member capitals, is now being considered in earnest.
As far as the U.S. government is concerned, the BSA is the sine qua non for a continued U.S. military presence past 2014. In fact, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff recently set an October 2013 deadline for completing the BSA in an effort to force the issue with an Afghan government that is struggling to define its own vision of a post-2014 security environment.
Without the BSA, however, even those who warn against the "zero option" have been adamant that total withdrawal is not only likely, but also inevitable. In other words, unless the BSA is finalized quickly, the idea of leaving no U.S. troops in Afghanistan after 2014 will continue to gain momentum, and what started out as a dangerous possibility may become the most likely course of action.
Another ‘collision course' issue is the taxation of contractors supporting U.S. military operations in Afghanistan. Admittedly, the U.S. government is partially responsible for this mess. The tax exemption rules for companies supporting U.S. government contracts, for example, were established through an exchange of diplomatic notes, leaving room for interpretation. Up to now, the U.S. and Afghan governments have not made the necessary amendments to limit ambiguity in contentious sections of the tax code. And now the Afghan government has implemented policies that the U.S. government considers unnecessary and undeserved predatory behavior.
In May 2013, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) presented an audit report to Congress that identified "nearly $1 billion in business taxes and penalties imposed by the Afghan government on contractors supporting U.S. operations." According to the report, the additional fees and penalties imposed on contractors will not only adversely effect military operations, but will cost the U.S. government hundreds of additional millions of dollars.
To complicate matters further, around the same time, the Afghan government stopped NATO convoys from crossing out of the country for about a week. According to a Washington Post report about the issue, "Afghan officials said they took the drastic measure to compel the United States to pay fines for failing to present properly processed customs forms for the thousands of containers that are exiting the country, mostly through the Pakistani border."
The idea of a seemingly petty customs fight forcing the U.S. military to ship more supplies by air, an expensive alternative, does not sit well with Congressional leaders who are already pushing for massive cuts in defense spending. Influential senators are starting to signal their displeasure and warn of potential consequences if the Afghan government remains unyielding in its position.
In particular, Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC), co-chairmen of the subcommittee that oversees foreign aid programs, and Senator Dan Coats (R-IN) sponsored an amendment to the annual budget bill for the State Department that withholds "five dollars of U.S. aid to the Afghan Government for every one dollar in fees imposed on the United States for bringing equipment and supplies back home." With the total amount of customs fee standing at $70 million, if passed, this amendment would have a huge impact on Afghanistan's development.
In discussing the amendment, Leahy said the fees are a "blatant extortion, it's the last straw...After all we have sacrificed in lives, in the wounds of our soldiers, and in the huge investments we have made to help that country, this is an insult." Graham responded similarly saying of the Afghan policy: "It's ridiculous, offensive, and will not stand." For his part, Coats stated: "We must not allow the Afghan government to exploit the United States further as we begin our anticipated draw down."
Karzai and those in his government certainly have the right to exercise their sovereignty and, perhaps, have some valid concerns regarding the BSA and reasons for the additional taxation/customs fees. But a failure to agree on the security arrangements post-2014 risks a complete withdrawal of U.S. forces; a draw-down that will strike physical and psychological blows to the Afghan National Security Forces who still need U.S. and coalition support and training assistance. It would also deny the United States a vital basing infrastructure that was built at significant cost and remains of great importance to both Afghan and U.S. national interests.
For Karzai, however, underestimating the Congressional commitment to holding the Afghan government accountable on the taxes and custom fees is perhaps the only thing more dangerous. Congress has the "power of the purse" and the ability to cut funding to U.S. activities in Afghanistan all together, something its members already threatened to do. One should also not forget that it was Congress that passed the Case-Church Amendment in 1973, cutting funding for and, effectively ending the war in Vietnam.
Furthermore, if the United States chooses to cut donor funds dramatically over perceived predatory behavior, other international donors will likely follow suit. Afghanistan is a country almost exclusively reliant on donor funds for its economic viability, and such action would put the Afghan government in a position from which it would struggle to recover.
Because of this, there is a sense that Karzai's team will consider the consequences of these "head-on collisions" and reengage its U.S. counterparts to resolve these challenges soon. Indeed, it appears that the Afghan government has already backed away from its demands for tariffs and custom fees; though undoubtedly the proof will be in the implementation of this concession.
But, the United States should also continue to compromise, particularly on issues related to Afghan fears over U.S. abandonment and a lack of enduring support. Unfortunately, the current political environment in Washington suggests that unless the Afghan government steers clear of collision courses at this critical juncture, Congress will simply pull the plug on the Afghan enterprise, making the Leahy-Graham-Coats amendment the opening salvo of a full U.S. withdrawal and the beginning of the end of U.S. financial support for Afghanistan.
Ioannis Koskinas was a military officer for over twenty years and now focuses on economic development projects in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
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The Taliban office in Doha is officially open for business, though it is unclear when now-stalled talks will begin. President Obama and officials in his administration have been quick to dampen expectations that peace is at hand -- or even in immediate sight -- which has proved wise given the current anger from Afghans over the way in which the Taliban office opened.
"This is an important first step towards reconciliation, although it is a very early step," President Obama said during a bilateral meeting with French President Francoise Hollande. "We anticipate there will be a lot of bumps in the road." A senior government official echoed those words, stressing to reporters that everyone needed to "be realistic. This is a new development, a potentially significant development. But peace is not at hand."
The United States has long spoken about winding down the war in Afghanistan and bringing its longest war to what the president has called a "responsible end." The 2009 announcement of an American troop "surge" in Afghanistan was accompanied by a drawdown timeline. But as the Iraq example suggests, the United States is better at withdrawing on schedule than withdrawing while leaving peace in its wake. Sectarian violence is surging in Iraq and as National Public Radio noted Tuesday morning, many analysts place the blame for the skyrocketing death count and rising insecurity on an America that washed its hands too soon of a country whose leader it had toppled.
America has vowed it will not "abandon" Afghanistan, including the country's women, with the president promising that the United States would "stand by" Afghans during the country's political and security transitions. A presidential election is scheduled for next April and already questions have surfaced about voter fraud and the willingness of Afghan President Hamid Karzai to transition himself out of office.
Alongside the political transition is the pressing question of what, exactly, the economic transition will bring. The past decade of economic openness has transformed a slew of sectors in a country that was largely isolated from the global economy just twelve years ago. While many in the U.S. think of Afghanistan as simply an aid-dependent basket case, green shoots abound.
The telecommunications sector is booming in a nation that counts nearly two-thirds of its population under the age of 25. Three-quarters of the country is covered by mobile networks and one in two Afghans say they have access to a mobile phone. The Afghan government notes that "over a period of five years from 2002 to 2007, there was tenfold increase in the telephone subscriptions, indicating an annual growth rate of about 60 percent." Media is thriving and the country now counts more than 70 television stations, with radio remaining an information staple in a country that counted the BBC and Voice of America as it news mainstays before 2001.
While the technology sector is very much in its infancy, technology start-ups are found in Kabul, Herat and the north, and 3G reached Afghanistan in 2012. Social networking is especially popular among urban twenty-somethings, with the country now home to roughly 400,000 Facebook users who talk and hang out online in ways they never could in person.
On the natural resources front in this mineral-rich country, Afghanistan has been doling out contracts to foreign firms, even as security has blocked some from advancing. The China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) is now developing the Amu Darya oil basin in the north of the country and the Atlantic noted that "an American chemical company and a consortium of diaspora Afghans are seeking to build refineries to service CNPC's extraction activities, as well as expected future extractors."
As the fountain of aid slows to a trickle, however, Afghanistan faces a funding cliff of daunting proportions. The World Bank estimated that in 2011 the country's foreign aid tally was the same size as its GDP, $15.7 billion. Since then, the economy has expanded with an outstanding harvest season and the start of mining activities, leading GDP to climb from 7.8 percent to nearly 12 percent. But the question of what 2014 means for the Afghan economy looms large -- and remains largely overlooked by many outside Afghanistan.
Harvard University tried to change that recently by convening a group of entrepreneurs, diplomats, and security types to harvest ideas for developing a "job-creating infrastructure," but scant attention has been paid to economics, despite its intimate relationship with security. The World Bank, among others, has cautioned that the "political and security uncertainties of the transition period are likely to take a toll on business confidence."
The political uncertainty ahead, and the funding cliff to come, has left Afghanistan's economic future filled with question marks. While the world pledged continued economic support for the country at the Tokyo conference in July 2012, actual funding levels remain unclear. And as the world's attention wanes, making sure these dollars reach Afghan coffers should be a priority for all those who have invested a decade of blood and treasure in the country.
In last year's vice presidential debate, Vice President Joe Biden told America "we are leaving in 2014, period, and in the process, we're going to be saving over the next 10 years another $800 billion. We've been in this war for over a decade. The primary objective is almost completed. Now all we're doing is putting the Kabul government in a position to be able to maintain their own security. It's their responsibility, not America's."
This week's news makes clear that, like it or not, America remains very much in the center of bringing a lasting peace to Afghanistan. And while the United States may want to shed its Afghanistan obligations -- including its commitment to supporting the Afghan economy -- those who care about Afghanistan's security, and America's, will want to make certain the green shoots get tended.
Gayle Tzemach Lemmon is a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and the author of The Dressmaker of Khair Khana.
MUNIR UZ ZAMAN/AFP/GettyImages
The Tokyo Mutual Accountability Framework (TMAF), agreed to at the July 2012 Tokyo Conference on Afghanistan, started out with high hopes. International donors pledged to provide Afghanistan with $4 billion in civilian aid per year through 2015 and to continue significant support through 2017 and beyond, while the Afghan government committed to governance improvements and a democratic political transition as per the Afghan Constitution. Less than a year into the implementation process, however, serious obstacles are being encountered.
As noted in a recent paper, the old adage about work in Soviet-era centrally-planned economic systems -- "we pretend to work, and they pretend to pay us" -- appears to be increasingly applicable to TMAF implementation, which is being undermined by:
- Doubts about the realism of some pledges made by both sides, specifically the degree of genuine commitment by the Afghan government to improving governance and fighting corruption, and the level of international funding that will actually materialize in the face of donors' budget constraints and disappointment over limited Afghan progress;
- Short-term priorities that may sideline TMAF implementation, most notably the international community's preoccupation with its military exit strategy, and the Afghan government's focus on political maneuvering in the run-up to the 2014 election;
- Adherence to process, fulfilling the "letter of the law" and "checking the box" on benchmarks, which is being emphasized at the expense of substance; and
- Focus on the TMAF for its own sake, which is, perhaps, distracting both sides from achieving actual results and positive outcomes.
Furthermore, there is a risk that TMAF implementation will degenerate into a "blame game," with each side accusing the other of failing to live up to its side of the "bargain" and using perceived failures as justification for falling short on its own commitments.
A few examples illustrate these themes. Recent convictions of Kabul Bank senior executives involved in the theft and misuse of some $1 billion in deposits and other bank funds were presented by the Afghan government as evidence of its fulfilling commitments regarding the bank, but there was a perception internationally that the verdicts were too lenient. Regardless, the practical point is this: with the principals of Kabul Bank convicted on some other fairly minor charges but not on money-laundering charges, the government cannot initiate formal procedures to seize the stolen assets already identified in other countries, and an opportunity for the Afghan state to recover hundreds of millions of dollars has been lost -- irrespective of whether TMAF benchmarks regarding corruption were met or not.
Some efforts by international donors to move aid "on-budget" -- providing funds to the Afghan government for disbursement through its national budget and administrative mechanisms -- seem questionable. Most donor funding is currently "off-budget" -- channeled bilaterally -- but at the Tokyo conference, donors committed to putting at least 50 percent of their aid on-budget, a laudable objective, as part of the shift toward Afghan leadership during the transition. It was recently announced, for example, that the installation of a third turbine at the Kajaki hydroelectric plant (in a conflict-ridden part of Helmand province) would be turned over to the Afghan government, despite massive and ultimately unsuccessful international efforts to complete the project. It is unclear how the Afghan government will be able to succeed where the international community failed.
Intruding short-term priorities can also trump making mutual accountability work. The international imperative of a timely and smooth withdrawal of foreign combat forces may be interfering with efforts to hold the Afghan government accountable for its performance. For example, international pressure for action on Kabul Bank has greatly eased as the coalition has become increasingly focused on its military exit strategy. It also appears that the IMF-supported macroeconomic program, which provides balance of payments support and the critical IMF "certification" that enables funding through trust funds and other budget support, is likely to remain officially "on-track," even if the government's performance falls short of its targets (for example in the crucial area of domestic revenue). No one wants to deal with the consequences of going off-track, namely a budget crisis.
On the Afghan side, short-term political considerations in the run-up to the 2014 presidential election are sidelining and distorting TMAF implementation. Expectations that the government will take meaningful actions to improve governance, especially against high-level corruption, will become all the more unrealistic as the election approaches. There are also signs of possible manipulation of some TMAF benchmarks for narrow political purposes. For example, the Afghan government has strongly advocated that 100 percent of international funding for the 2014 presidential and the 2015 parliamentary elections be on-budget, ostensibly related to the TMAF benchmark of moving more aid on-budget. However, without safeguards to preserve the independence of electoral authorities, this may increase their vulnerability to interference or at least undermine public confidence in the elections (I am grateful to my colleague Scott Smith for making this point).
It is also uncertain to what extent the Tokyo pledge of civilian aid will be delivered. Based on Afghan and international experience, actual aid commonly falls short of pledges for a variety of reasons, and it would be surprising if the Tokyo pledge turned out to be an exception to this general pattern. Moreover, given that the pledge was slightly above even the high-end scenario ("accelerating progress") put forward in the World Bank study Afghanistan in Transition: Looking Beyond 2014, it seems clear that donors saw this amount as a "stretch target" -- something to be aspired to only if there is strong progress by the government in improving governance and fighting corruption in the spirit of the TMAF's objectives, prospects for which are doubtful in the short run.
Aside from these concerns, the TMAF is generating a substantial amount of paperwork, which may further distract those involved from substance. The government's "anti-corruption decree" of July 2012, intended to be a vehicle for implementing the TMAF, contained more than 150 specific action points/benchmarks, called for a large amount of reporting, and would be no small task to monitor.
Overall, the larger goals that animated the Tokyo conference and the promise of the TMAF are being undermined during implementation. But this should not come as a complete surprise given experience with conditionality, benchmarks, and similar arrangements in other countries, as well as in Afghanistan's own recent history. Such mechanisms do not work well in the absence of a reform constituency in the country that can leverage conditions and push reforms, if objectives and targets are overly ambitious or multitudinous, and if a medium-term perspective is lacking or is dominated by short-term priorities.
But how to move forward? Rather than investing more effort in trying to fix and fine-tune the TMAF, let alone add benchmarks or revisit the respective "failures" of both sides, the Afghan government and its international partners need to clarify and manage their own and each other's expectations. This will be particularly important in the immediate future while the challenges of elections and political transition, as well as the withdrawal of international combat troops, dominate the landscape.
Both sides can responsibly pursue their respective, clearly-defined objectives, while staying realistic about overlaps and disconnects. Progress would be facilitated by clear and honest communications. The main objectives of Afghanistan and the international community are interdependent and in many ways broadly consistent -- provided they are responsibly pursued and include a wider, medium-term perspective rather than solely serving narrow and short-term interests. The international community's key short-run priority is to withdraw most foreign combat troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2014 and achieve a smooth security hand-over. For this hand-off to be sustainable, the achievement of several key Afghan national objectives is required, most importantly a successful presidential election and political transition, resulting in an effective new government administration and (later) parliament that are perceived to be legitimate both internally and externally.
Once these key milestones of the current political and security transition are successfully achieved, the TMAF, if tempered by realistic ambitions and timeframes, may provide the basis for a productive partnership between Afghanistan and the international community over the medium term.
William Byrd is an Afghanistan senior expert at the U.S. Institute of Peace. The views expressed here are his own.
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As of this year, Afghanistan has experienced ten years of stabilization intervention, but what is there to show for it? Marked by massive expenditure with little to no accountability, and often marred by waste, stabilization in Afghanistan started out with arguably honorable aims. However, as troops prepare to leave in 2014, what legacy will be left behind?
Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) began with perhaps the best of intentions: to fill the vacuum of law and order left by the fall of the Taliban and undertake reconstruction, badly needed in a country devastated by three decades of conflict. The security situation was perceived to be relatively benign, with the major threats being criminals and warlords seeking to reassert power.
PRTs did some positive work, often acting as the only authority in a security vacuum, and were appreciated, at least early on, by Afghans. They were no substitute, however, for the effective governance and security required. PRTs' predominantly military staff received little to no training, lacked the technical skills required to carry out development work and focused more on short term quick impact projects instead of the long term state-and-peace-building work that was so badly needed. Rather than seeking to build Afghan capacity - a central component of their mandate - they often worked around the government. The PRTs also created winners and losers, supporting local strongmen or funneling money through often corrupt construction companies.
Despite early U.S. government acknowledgement of these problems, PRTs expanded rapidly, led by a multitude of different nations that were often unable to effectively coordinate amongst each another. In 2008, the US Congress described the situation as one with "no clear definition of the PRT mission, no concept of operations or doctrine, no standard operating procedures."
As insecurity spread, the dual security and reconstruction roles of PRTs became increasingly schizophrenic. One incident in Ghazni province in 2004 saw PRT officials offering to build a well for villagers just weeks after they had fired rockets into the very same village killing nine children. Unsurprisingly, residents were hardly consoled and Afghan goodwill for the PRTs was quickly eroded.
But the amount of money available for military-led development continued to increase. In 2009, the US Army published the Commanders' Guide to Money as a Weapons System, which defined aid as "a nonlethal weapon" to be utilised to "win the hearts and minds of the indigenous population to facilitate defeating the insurgents." Aid devoted to these objectives rapidly increased: annual funding for the Commander's Emergency Response Program (CERP), the primary U.S. PRT funding stream, rose from $200m in 2007 to $1bn in 2010.
No centralised, comprehensive records appear to have been kept on the PRTs, either within the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) or the Afghan government, and rarely even within PRTs. When auditors found CERP project files incomplete or non-existent in 2009, CERP project managers told US auditors that their focus "was on obligating funds for projects rather than monitoring their implementation." Unsurprisingly there has been no comprehensive monitoring and evaluation of CERP-funded programmes; the most thorough examination is a 2011 SIGAR audit of CERP programming in the insecure eastern province of Laghman. It's a harrowing read. Of the $53m CERP funds allocated to the PRT between 2008 and 2011, 92% (or $49.2m) was dedicated to projects found by SIGAR to be "at risk or have questionable outcomes." Funds were not managed in accordance with standard operating procedures, which were finally established in 2009, and none of the 69 projects had sufficient documentation to track outcomes. Again and again, the audit found the Afghan government unable to take over PRT projects.
PRTs were not the only instrument of stabilization. Between 2003 and 2012, USAID obligated $1.1bn in stabilization funding to for-profit contractors but such projects fared no better. One example is USAID's ‘flagship counterinsurgency program' the Local Government and Community Development Programme (LGCD). The budget and timelines for the $400m, five-year project mushroomed despite questionable early evaluation findings and the fact that over half of LGCD's expenditures were on staff costs and security. USAID officials were unable to visit several sites because it was too dangerous. As for its impact, the USAID Inspector-General reported ‘the project's overall success seemed highly questionable.'
Part of the problem is that the goals of stabilization in Afghanistan were never comprehensively, consistently or clearly articulated. Stabilization works on the assumption that conflicts are fuelled by grievances about poverty or neglect, and that development projects that improve governance, opportunities and services can ‘stabilize' conflict situations. But evidence is lacking or discouraging. A 2011 Tufts university study found while there was some evidence some stabilization interventions can work in the short term, there is little evidence of long term security gains and much more indicating a tendency to create local conflict and ‘perverse incentives' to maintain insecurity.
In an world where aid agencies are required to prove their ‘value for money' and aid-receiving governments are pressured to become fully transparent, the lack of systematic, government-led push for accountability for the multi-billion dollar investments is hypocritical and irresponsible - and speaks to an ideological unwillingness to address the problems and pitfalls of stabilization approaches.
The lack of interest in documenting the impact of the stabilization efforts - both what works and what doesn't - does not bode well for the rest of the world. As global focus turns to other complex emergencies in Mali, Yemen and Somalia, stabilization is increasingly the approach of choice. Without recognizing systematic problems, stabilization interventions are unlikely to improve and begin to fulfill their lofty goals. After the troop drawdown in Afghanistan next year, perhaps we'll have a better idea of the true legacy of stabilization. But for now, the future looks worryingly unstable.
Ashley Jackson is a Research Fellow in the Humanitarian Policy Group at the Overseas Development Institute. Before joining ODI she worked for several years in Afghanistan with the United Nations and Oxfam.
Manjunath Kiran/AFP/Getty Images
As Afghan President Hamid Karzai visits Washington to discuss a bilateral strategic agreement between the United States and Afghanistan, policymakers and the public are debating the pace of troop drawdown and the residual force post-2014, when the security handover to Afghan authorities finishes. Missing from these discussions is a focus on the political and economic transitions underway in Afghanistan - areas that will serve as greater determinants of Afghan stability than whether there are zero, 4,000, or 9,000 U.S. troops. Politics ultimately drive the Afghan conflict, and its resolution will require a broader political consensus and stronger economic foundation than currently exists.
President Karzai's visit offers an opportunity for the Obama administration, members of Congress and others to drill down and express support for a number of political and economic priorities, which could assist in strengthening the legitimacy and competence of the Afghan state as the United States and NATO drawdown. The current Afghan state is deeply flawed and has alienated many Afghans due to its exclusive and predatory nature. The constitutional system, which vests great power in the hands of the executive without real checks and balances, lends itself to abuses of authority. Officials often use formal state institutions to support their patronage networks, fueling high levels of corruption, cronyism, and nepotism on the national and local levels. What's more, the dependency of the Afghan government and its security forces on high levels of international assistance for the foreseeable future, especially in a time of global austerity, threatens to undermine a sustainable transition.
Creating a stronger political consensus and a more solid economic foundation for the Afghan state will be required for long-term stability in Afghanistan. In their meetings with President Karzai and his team, senior U.S. officials must state their expectations about these political and economic processes, clarifying that long-term security support is contingent on Afghan progress on these efforts. Expectations should include the following:
First, a free, fair, inclusive and transparent presidential election is required in which President Karzai transfers power to a legitimately elected successor. President Karzai must work to ensure that the electoral bodies, including the Independent Electoral Commission and an electoral complaints mechanism are independent and credible. The United States hopes to see parliamentary approval of the electoral laws and the implementation of a plan to ensure a successful election.
Second, the United States supports an inclusive political reconciliation process, led by Afghans. The United States supports outreach by President Karzai to more Afghan stakeholders, including the political opposition, women, and civil society groups, in addition to Taliban insurgents. The United States and Afghanistan should create a bilateral mechanism to coordinate their peacemaking, public statements regarding negotiations and outreach to stakeholders, as well as to establish a venue, where representatives of the parties to the conflict can meet outside of Afghanistan or Pakistan to discuss a political settlement.
Third, the United States remains committed to the agreements made at the Tokyo conference in July 2012 by the Afghan government and the international community. In addition to agreeing to provide $16 billion in civilian assistance through 2015, the international community committed to improving the effectiveness of its aid, aligning its assistance with Afghan priority programs, and providing more aid through the Afghan government's budget rather than through outside contractors. However, the disbursements of these dollars depends on the Afghan government progressing on its own commitments, including:
Fourth, the United States supports the development of Afghanistan's mineral sector, in a way that benefits the Afghan population and not a select few. While Afghanistan is already a candidate member of the Extractives Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), the Karzai administration should develop an Extractive Industries Development Framework that governs Afghanistan's natural wealth through an "accountable, efficient and transparent mechanism which builds upon and surpasses international best practices", as agreed to in Tokyo. The Ministry of Mines should continue to engage with civil society in order to increase transparency in the mining sector and to respond to the needs of communities affected by mining.
The Obama administration must focus on political and economic priorities during President Karzai's visit. Military aspects-troop numbers, training of the Afghan forces, and financial support to the security services-won't be enough to ensure Afghanistan's security and stability over the long term. Leaving behind an unprepared and expensive force to battle an insurgency that NATO has struggled to contain is more likely to create instability than lasting security. Instead, U.S. efforts must be focused on building a more sustainable Afghan state.
John Podesta is Chairman and Caroline Wadhams is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress.
The Tokyo meeting on Afghanistan of July 8 exceeded expectations in terms of both the total civilian aid funding indicated by donors ($16 billion over four years, or $4 billion per year on average) and the commitments agreed to by the Afghan government. This favorable outcome in turn has generated expectations for the future. "Mutual accountability" is the framework for implementation established at Tokyo to ensure that such expectations aren't disappointed. Mutual accountability means that the Afghan government and the international community are both responsible for -- and are accountable to each other for -- achieving mutually agreed objectives in the areas of improving governance, political transition, and development performance (by the government), and delivering aid and improving its effectiveness (by the international community). But will mutual accountability work? A recent paper sheds light on this question based on international experience and Afghanistan's recent history.
This is not the first time that sets of commitments and benchmarks have been used to try to move forward progress in Afghanistan. The past decade has seen numerous declarations and agreements, reflecting the multiplicity of donors and the plethora of high-profile international meetings since 2001; some prominent examples are briefly discussed below.
The Bonn Agreement of December 2001 required a number of political and institutional actions on the Afghan side, and the international community undertook to provide support. Most benchmarks-such as convening of a national assembly (Emergency Loya Jirga), adoption of a new constitution, and presidential and parliamentary elections-were achieved, on-time. However, the broader objective of state-building was elusive, and progress toward stable political institutions and normal political life was limited. Moreover, the Bonn process did not set in motion self-sustaining dynamics for continuing progress after it was completed in 2005. On the contrary, there were reversals in some respects, and the second round of elections in 2009-2010 turned out to be more problematic than the first round in 2004-2005.
The Afghanistan Compact of 2006 is a good example of how not to do mutual accountability. The wide range of areas covered and the sheer number of benchmarks-well over 100 of them in some 52 different areas-represented a "Christmas tree" approach which included almost everything and thereby ended up prioritizing nothing. It soon became largely irrelevant. Moreover, the mechanism for overseeing implementation, the Joint Coordination and Monitoring Board (JCMB), became an unwieldy, largely diplomatic forum.
There has been good experience with policy-based budget support (funding provided directly to the Afghan government budget by international financial institutions, in return for implementation of an agreed set of policy measures as part of a coherent reform agenda), and also with the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund's Incentive Program (ARTF IP). These initiatives took on board lessons from international experience; supported reform constituencies in the Afghan government; and built constructive dialogue between government and donors. The ARTF IP, with its agreed benchmarks and financial incentives, is a good example of coordinated financing (pooled funding) by the ARTF donors. However, these initiatives accounted for only a small proportion of total aid, did not include political conditions, and did not work well where highly connected political and financial interests were involved. For example, the Kabul Bank crisis was of a magnitude that could not be effectively addressed through the ARTF IP and its benchmarks; indeed the entire ARTF was put at risk as donor contributions dried up during the crisis.
The Tokyo Framework of July 8 clearly reflects learning from experience. There are 20-plus benchmarks for the government in five main areas, far fewer than in the Afghanistan Compact. There is a long-term perspective-the "decade of transformation" (2014-2025), and the responsibilities of Afghanistan and the international community are clearly set forth and demarcated.
However, major issues and challenges lie ahead in implementing the Tokyo Framework. On the international side, the multiplicity of donors means there is fragmented accountability, which could adversely affect coherence as well as the ability of the international community to be meaningfully held accountable for total funding, particularly given severe fiscal constraints faced around the world. Coordinated funding will be essential, but is it realistic to expect most aid to go through the Afghan government budget/trust funds? This would require a wholesale change from past patterns whereby the bulk of aid was fragmented, project-based, and off-budget.
For the Afghan government, uncertain political and security prospects raise doubts about its ability to meet commitments. The reform constituency may be weakening; there has been an inability to fully address issues where high-level political connections are involved (e.g. Kabul Bank); and more generally, political will for meaningful reforms understandably may decline as the security transition proceeds and the next election cycle approaches. Preparations for elections-presidential in 2014 and parliamentary in 2015-will be an important early test of political will, including as called for in the Tokyo Declaration developing a comprehensive election timeline by early 2013 and a robust electoral architecture to enable successful and timely elections. Fighting corruption, including meaningful asset declarations of senior officials in the executive, legislature, and judiciary, will be another good indicator of the extent of political will for reforms.
Moreover, it is doubtful whether major political issues can be adequately handled through an articulated mutual accountability framework with benchmarks and calibrated financial incentives. Other mechanisms, such as that set up to oversee implementation of the Strategic Partnership Agreement between the Afghan and US governments, may be better suited for handling "big-ticket" issues, such as the preparations for and conduct and quality of the next presidential and parliamentary elections.
Inability by the international community to deliver the level of funding committed could provide a justification for the Afghan government failing to achieve its benchmarks. Mutual accountability could then degenerate into each side accusing the other of not delivering on promises, rather than working as a framework with incentives to achieve positive results and improve behavior on both sides as intended.
How will achievement of benchmarks be monitored and enforced? Given past experience, there are doubts about how well the JCMB (mandated to oversee implementation), and the series of further high-level meetings agreed at Tokyo, will work. Declining aid for Afghanistan means the funding lever potentially will be stronger than in the past, when aid was increasing and pressures to spend more money were overwhelming irrespective of performance, but it is not clear how effectively it can be deployed given donor fragmentation and also that some funding (e.g. for Afghan security forces) is seen as an integral part of international drawdown strategy and hence will be difficult to hold back.
In conclusion, while the outcome at Tokyo exceeded expectations and hence was a success, the challenge henceforth will be implementation. Mutual accountability-the cornerstone of the Tokyo Framework-is intended to put in place a set of responsibilities and incentives for the Afghan government and for the international community that will foster better behavior and performance on the part of both. There are serious questions about whether and how well mutual accountability will work, most important among them the level of political will in the Afghan government for taking difficult actions and the degree of coherence of donors as well as their ability and willingness to use financial leverage both positively and negatively to encourage fulfillment of government commitments.
William Byrd is a visiting senior expert at the United States Institute of Peace. This note is based on his remarks on mutual accountability at a USIP panel discussion on the subject. The views expressed here are his own.
Ten years after the first Afghanistan reconstruction conference was held in Tokyo in 2002, Japan will host a second donors' gathering on July 8 to formulate a strategy to ensure the sustainable development of Afghanistan beyond 2014 - the date set for NATO's withdrawal. Tokyo 1 took place at a time of high hope, a clean slate, and enthusiasm for engagement, but almost no assessment of the gargantuan rebuilding task to be undertaken in a country devastated by more than two decades of warfare. There also was no insurgency to worry about. Tokyo 2 is happening at a time of uncertainty and donor fatigue, but at least the stakeholders now have a vast (and expensive) database to work with. However, the most conspicuous feature Afghans and donors will face next week and beyond, is the fragility permeating the Afghan security, political and economic sectors. Furthermore, the Taliban are now viewed as a real threat to stability.
This is not to say that Afghanistan, a country with a strong society and a weak state, is about to collapse or be engulfed in civil war, as some dramatically predict, but it is to highlight the very real concerns that Afghans have about their predicament, knowing that too much money (and generosity) resulted in less than desired outcomes on all three fronts. Not only are there serious lessons, especially in regards to contracting and prioritization, to be learned about the international side of the engagement since 2002, but also about the Afghan absorption, management and accountability sides as well.
Although the Afghan economy's growth rate has hovered around an average of 8% per annum for the past nine years, income per capita has tripled to more than $520, life expectancy and child and maternal deaths have improved considerably, more than 8 million children have access to education, domestic revenue has increased eight-fold since 2002, and the country's telecommunication and energy connections are impressive, there is still angst about an unresponsive government, a donor-led economy, and a nagging insurgency.
The Afghan ministerial delegation, led by then-interim chairman Hamid Karzai, headed to Tokyo 1 with a short wish list to present to a receptive community of donors, but it did not prioritize key sectors like agriculture, power and water, or institution and capacity building. The main focus was on road building. It took nearly five more years to focus on agriculture and power. The emphasis this time around should be on infrastructure, institution and human capital buildup
Initially, the footprint adopted for rebuilding and securing Afghanistan was light and small. With the re-emergence of Taliban militias from their cross-border hideouts by 2005, and a realization that the impoverished nation needed a more robust effort to make up for two generations of destruction and lack of development in all sectors, a heavier footprint and grander financial investment became necessary to make a difference.
As aid and troop inflows reached new heights by 2010-11, economic, political and public opinion expediencies in major donor nations resulted in a strategic about-face to lower expenditures and start the withdrawal process - some would argue prematurely - anchored in hopes that a half-cooked reconciliation process aimed partly at re-integrating the Taliban would be easily reached. In a country where more than 95% of the local economy is dependent on military spending, American development aid alone has been cut nearly in half this year, from $4.1 billion to $2.5 billion.
Today, as donors gather in Tokyo 2 to pledge once again to support the Afghan economy beyond 2014, Afghanistan stands at a precarious crossroads, either leading toward business-as-usual, a path to serious reform and overhaul, or worsening conditions.
There are two critical goals:
1. Avoiding a repeat of the early 1990s collapse of the communist regime, partly as a result of money supplies running dry from Moscow;
2. Avoiding a repeat of the last 1o years in terms of weak strategizing, weak coordination, less-than-adequate prioritization, mismanagement, waste, graft, nepotism, impunity, and fraud. The fact that after all these years, Afghan state institutions are still having major difficulties with the expenditure of their development budget is a sign of structural dissonance, low capacity, and weak middle-to-upper management skills. Unprofessional auditing systems have given rise to political manipulation.
The immediate remedy is not just about channeling a greater percentage of foreign aid through government channels (although that has to be a consideration), it is about competent leadership at the helm of weak institutions who can restructure and assure fiscal discipline by adopting result-oriented strategies.
The trust factor has eroded so deeply between government and the public, and between the donors and Afghan authorities, that it is becoming increasingly difficult to initiate real reforms, fight corruption (starting at higher levels) and adopt better governance practices. The rebound requires a major effort on the part of the Afghan government to implement widespread consultation and participatory decision-making in order to rebuild confidence.
It is expected that discussions at Tokyo 2 will also focus on regional integration and cooperation. While Afghan security challenges are fed by neighborhood players, all efforts should be made to prevent an economic relapse post-2014 and facilitate a democratic and peaceful transfer of power.
As Afghanistan aims to exploit its underground mineral wealth and oil and gas reserves - to a large extent subject to relative peace and stability - and serve as the regional linkage for the "new silk road," it will be incumbent upon the authorities to adopt laws on access to information, and set up credible watchdog functions, and for all sides to follow strict rules pertaining to transparency, accountability, and environmental and cultural sensitivity.
In the Afghan context, reform requires political will, a competent and committed team, as well as a belief in good governance and rule of law, in creating effective partnerships across international, communal and private, public alignments, and in designing smart and sustainable projects that take into consideration the needs and rights of communities, including women, girls, and minorities.
The Afghan government will reportedly make a request for almost $4 billion of annual aid until 2025, and will agree to sign off on a "Mutual Accountability Framework" spelling out obligations on all sides.
Tokyo 2 needs to make use of best practices and agree on what constitutes a priority program. Donors also need to assure sustainability of all projects proposed by the Afghan side as part of the more than 20 programs that will require funding. There will be a requirement to put in place functional follow-up mechanisms and track established benchmarks.
While the international community takes yet another step to affirm its long-term commitment to Afghanistan -- following the Chicago NATO summit in May and the Bonn 2 conference last December -- Afghanistan will need to give assurances that it is adopting a reformist agenda that not only would enable all transitions to succeed but would make Afghanistan more self-sufficient within in a more stable region. Together they need to reduce the risks inherent to fragility.
Omar Samad is Senior Afghanistan Expert at the United States Institute of Peace in Washington D.C. Formerly, he served as Afghanistan's Ambassador to France (2009-2011) and Canada (2004-2009). He was spokesperson for the Foreign Ministry between 2001-2004.
Koichi Kamoshida/Getty Images
NATO's plan to transition Afghanistan to Afghan security control by the end
of 2014 offers an unexpected but potentially golden opportunity for the United States
and its allies to rectify, or at least improve, their strategy towards Pakistan.
In the midst of major budget cuts and a reorientation of our global footprint
away from Iraq and Afghanistan, Western leaders -- and particularly the U.S.
Congress -- are already tempted to reduce support to a country that can at best be
considered a fair-weather friend. But over the next several years, the
United States and NATO will be offered a chance to help Pakistan establish a
functioning civil society without the complications of a Western-led counterinsurgency
campaign across the border.
One benefit of reducing NATO's military presence in Afghanistan is that it will make it easier for the U.S. and allied governments to support entities in Pakistan in addition to the Government of Pakistan itself, particularly non-governmental organizations. At the same time, it will make accepting that assistance more palatable to Pakistanis, many of whom believe NATO's war has wrought violence and destruction upon their country. While foreign aid is far from guaranteed to achieve its intended results in Pakistan (or anywhere), effective assistance to Pakistan's civil society, in combination with increased access to foreign markets and improvements in security, is the tool most likely to help Pakistanis slow the slide toward failed nuclear statehood. With a fast-growing population of disenfranchised and radicalized youth, that scenario represents a clear threat to Western interests as well as Pakistan itself.
Over the course of a ten-year war in Afghanistan, the United States and allied governments steadily increased assistance to the government of Pakistan, reducing it only after the death of Osama bin Laden and Pakistan's indignant response. From the United States alone, direct overt aid and military reimbursements ballooned from $1.99 billion in 2002 to $4.29 billion in 2010. This number dropped to $2.37 billion in 2011 following a slow deterioration of relations that hit rock-bottom with the bin Laden raid on May 2 and has continued to slip over issues like NATO supply lines and cross-border incidents. The majority of this decrease has been made up of security assistance, and specifically Coalition Support Funds (CSF), which are used to reimburse Pakistan for military operations undertaken in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
In the immediate aftermath of September 11, the United States was explicit in its statements of expectations for Pakistani cooperation, and confidence in Pakistan's support for U.S. efforts ran high through early 2002. By early 2003, however, President Karzai was intimating that Pakistan might be behind some Taliban attacks inside Afghanistan, or at least that Pakistan harbored those who were conducting them. The U.S. press was regularly reporting such accusations - including cryptic quotes from anonymous U.S. officials -- by mid-2004, and in July 2008, U.S. officials were all but confirming that Pakistan Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI) was supporting Taliban groups.
Thus, the majority of U.S. assistance was ultimately provided
in spite of what many perceived as a contradiction between what Pakistan said
("we're on your side in Afghanistan; your terrorists are our
terrorists"), and what their actions seemed to convey ("we are
primarily concerned with our terrorists and may go as far as supporting those
who attack your soldiers if it will protect our interests in Kabul").
These misgivings were felt broadly inside the U.S. government, reaching as high
as former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen who, after
years of staunch support for Pakistan, famously called the Haqqani Network a "veritable
arm of the ISI." But Pakistan's military cooperation along the border
combined with critical assistance on counterterrorism made providing almost
anything worth the cost, even while many knew the assistance relationship was
This calculus must shift as NATO reduces its footprint in Afghanistan. The United States and NATO will still need the Government of Pakistan's cooperation on certain issues, particularly counterterrorism, but also ensuring supplies reach the Special Operations and intelligence personnel remaining in Afghanistan after the bulk of the forces withdraw. Maintaining good relations with the military and civilian leadership is critical, because they are important regional actors and arbiters of access for personnel, official and otherwise. Improving the Pakistan military's ability to control its territory will also remain important as long as insurgent groups - not to mention al-Qaeda - continue to use it as a safe haven. But overall the United States and its allies will need those entities less, making it easier to diversify who receives aid in the country. Certainly it will be a challenge to maintain these relationships while diverting assistance from the military and/or civilian government to other groups within Pakistan. But as long as we are careful to avoid supporting groups that the Government of Pakistan views as active threats (i.e., opposing political parties, Christian groups, or organizations associated with India), there is no reason the United States, its allies, and private aid organizations cannot provide assistance to groups outside the formal government structure and/or military. In fact, this is the United States' foreign assistance model in many other countries around the world.
States and its allies will also have more leeway to negotiate access for
personnel who can oversee implementation and increase transparency. For example, the Government of Pakistan has
been circumspect about allowing U.S.
and other foreign personnel to directly implement assistance programs and
military training, with obvious effects on donors' ability to verify how and
where money is spent. Past efforts to
use assistance as leverage to gain necessary access have been somewhat
successful, but have floundered during periods of escalated tensions. If the United States and NATO are less
dependent on Pakistan to support operations in Afghanistan, and if
Afghanistan-related tensions are even partially diffused, they will be better
positioned to require access and transparency in return for aid.
The future stability of Pakistan is reliant on a viable civilian leadership capable and willing to address the needs of its people. With a population of more than 180 million growing by 50 million over the next 15 years, the political elite's inability to address a chronic lack of education and basic services is setting the conditions for major civil unrest accompanied by sectarian violence and instability. Current efforts to remedy these problems are underfunded and plagued by administrative and logistical problems, making the likelihood of effective progress slim without outside help. And in a country with rampant Islamic extremism and a fast-growing nuclear arsenal, the current trajectory makes Pakistan - already a dangerous place - even more ominous on the world stage.
nations' ability to change Pakistan's
overall course is limited. There is,
however, reason to be hopeful. There
were an estimated 100,000 non-profit
organizations operating in Pakistan as of 2009, a large percentage of which are
locally-funded and could have greater impact with the help of foreign
funding. In a less contentious future
environment, the United States and its allies could provide assistance to some
of these groups, as well as work through international organizations and
encourage foreign investment and private donations. While the U.S. Congress and allied
governments are justified in remembering Pakistan's indiscretions over the
course of the Afghan war, it is the responsibility of those nations' leaders to
win over lawmakers and their constituents on why an unstable Pakistan only
means more turbulence for the region and beyond.
These non-profit organizations and other parts of Pakistani civil society, including its long-stifled but not non-existent private sector, may have a chance of improving conditions in the country, drawing on the support of the moderate majority. Pakistani and international charitable organizations are making a small dent in the massive problem set Pakistani confronts, particularly in the realm of education. But there is one fact that Western policy-makers are going to have to accept: many of these players hold Islamist and anti-Western views. As we learned in Egypt and other Arab Spring nations, we cannot expect entities to represent the people of a Muslim nation and not embody some Islamic values. This fact in itself does not make that group extremist or an enemy of the West.
should apply this new understanding to future engagement with Pakistan, while
remaining aware of both the sensitivities of the Government of Pakistan and
those of the U.S. Congress, who remain the stewards of U.S. tax-payer dollars. If the United States, NATO, and Pakistan can
use the Afghan drawdown to reduce tensions and improve security, if only
marginally, the U.S.-Pakistan relationship has the potential to more closely
resemble the peace-time relationships maintained with other nations in South
Asia and elsewhere. This would encompass
a balance of international assistance (both through government structures and
non-profits, keeping in line with host nation priorities), free and balanced
trade relationships, and help in developing a dynamic political and economic
Conveniently, the drawdown in Afghanistan also makes it easier for many Pakistani groups to work with Western groups and governments. Many Pakistanis are quick to blame Pakistan's domestic problems on the war in Afghanistan and Pakistan's participation in it. Whether or not this is based in reality, those perceptions drive politics within Pakistan. As the United States and NATO reduce their military presence in the region, Pakistani officials will be less able to blame Western actions for their domestic problems. At the same time, the population will increasingly focus on day-to-day survival rather than regional matters, and non-profits will increasingly seek civilian assistance for their country. The West can meet those calls and gain much good will at a reasonable cost.
Based on its own national and strategic interests, Pakistan has been a tentative ally in the Afghan war. But the United States and its allies cannot write off the population of Pakistan for the shortcomings of its political system. In fact, to do so poses much greater long-term risks, the mitigation of which requires a nation moving towards economic viability whose problems are not spilling into the world around it. Failure to maintain international support to Pakistan means discarding a real chance for progress by walking away before the real work has begun.
Whitney Kassel is a former Assistant for Counterterrorism Policy in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low Intensity Conflict (ASD SO/LIC), and now serves as a director at The Arkin Group.
Arif Ali/AFP/Getty Images
Since NATO's Lisbon summit in November 2010, debate has raged over the decision to draw-down troops from Afghanistan by 2014. And in less than a month, NATO is to hold its 25th heads of state summit in Chicago on 20th May. Unsurprisingly, among the summit's major themes will be the seemingly intractable Afghan question, controversy over which has continued with increasingly ferocious attacks by militants - the synchronised 18-hour assault on Kabul on April 16 being an outstanding example - along with persistently strained U.S.-Pakistani relations since NATO airstrikes killed 24 Pakistani soldiers last November. But rather than endlessly debating troop numbers - whose link to stability is at the least exceedingly unclear - NATO allies would be better off focusing on how to maximise the impact of programs which pave the way for long-term stability by dramatically re-shifting the focus of aid funding from security to development.
The full transition of responsibility for Afghanistan's security from NATO to Afghan forces poses deep questions about the efficacy of international intervention and traditional military approaches. For some critics calling for a faster transition to Afghan control, NATO's presence is the problem. Two years ago, NATO Afghan war veteran Lt. Col. Thomas Brouns warned presciently that "the possibility of strategic defeat looms" as "violent incidents" increase in direct proportion to the troop surge. The war is "a losing battle in winning the hearts and minds of nearly 30 million Afghans."
Others argue that a quick NATO withdrawal could be a grave mistake, precipitating a downwards spiral into endless civil war - a view expounded last year by the German military, the RAF, and a British government review ordered by Prime Minister David Cameron. Even the Afghan defence minister Abdul Rahim Wardak warned of the potentially catastrophic ramifications of a more abrupt withdrawal - no doubt fearing a Taliban come-back in the wake of the vacuum left behind by NATO's departure.
Amidst all the controversy about NATO in Afghanistan, the curious assumption is that the country's stability is somehow purely correlated with troop numbers, rather than underlying socio-economic conditions and political accountability. Indeed, commentators have overlooked the single component of international intervention which has had resounding success - development aid, through Afghanistan's National Solidarity Programme (NSP). Under the programme, the Afghan government disburses grants to village-level elected organisations, Community Development Councils (CDCs), which in turn identify local priorities and implement small-scale development projects.
The NSP has reached out to 24,000 villages, mobilising nearly 70 percent of rural communities across all of Afghanistan's 34 provinces - including enrolling over 100,000 women into new local CDCs. An independent evaluation by academics from Harvard, MIT and the New School found that the NSP had led to "significant improvement in villagers' economic wellbeing" and "their attitudes towards the government" - "reducing the number of people willing to join the insurgents" leading to "an improved security situation in the long run."
Yet the evaluation report also observes that development mitigates militancy only in regions facing "moderate violence" - but not where there are "high levels of initial violence." Here, the impact of the war is palpable - 2011 saw a record number of 3,021 Afghan civilian deaths. And a UN assessment for that year found the average monthly number of "security incidents" - such as gun battles and roadside bombings - was 39 per cent higher than the preceding year.
So if the exit strategy is the right one, it's still not enough. From June 2002 to September 2010, the United States - though the largest NSP donor - has given $528 million to the programme (as well as another $225 million from FY 2010 funds, with Congress appropriating a further $800 million or so). This is a tiny fraction in the total of about $18.8 billion in foreign assistance over the last decade, and much more needs to be done. Over two-thirds of Afghans still live in dire poverty; only 23 per cent have access to safe drinking water; and just 24 percent above the age of 15 can read and write, according to the UN High Commission for Human Rights. Thus, a recent report by the Center for a New American Security urges that the US government "not only continue its [NSP's] funding but should also help expand the program across Afghanistan. Only through steadfast support of the NSP and similarly structured enterprises can hard-won military gains be consolidated into an enduring, Afghan-led peace."
Yet the NSP is a virtual carbon copy of a longstanding development model being implemented just across the border in rural Pakistan, including the Taliban's strongholds in the northwest frontier province: the Rural Support Programmes Network (RSPN). As Pakistan's largest NGO, the RSPN has run quietly for nearly thirty years, with a staggering success rate - having mobilised over 4 million Pakistani households through local community organisations, provided skills training to nearly 3 million, and reached approximately 30 million people.
The RSPN's model - replicated so successfully in Afghanistan under the NSP - is distinguished by its unique participatory approach, based on partnership with communities. The programme began in the early 1980s through the Aga Khan Rural Support Programme (AKRSP), in the Chitral and Gilgit-Baltistan regions. Under the leadership of Nobel Prize nominee Shoaib Sultan Khan, the AKRSP model was replicated by establishing a further ten autonomous Rural Support Programmes (RSP) across three quarters of the country's districts - which together form the umbrella that is the RSPN.
The secret of the RSPN's success is deceptively simple. The poor are mobilised to establish local community organisations where citizens are involved in every aspect of decision-making - designing and selecting projects, managing them, and monitoring expenditures - in projects which have immediate, tangible impact. The programme thus empowers villagers to see themselves as citizens with the skills, tools and acumen to work together in managing disbursement of government funds to lift themselves out of poverty.
In the northwest province of Chitral, for instance, local micro-scale hydro-electricity projects now supply power to over half of the population. Elsewhere, RSPN has empowered locals to establish 1,449 community schools, whose pupils out-perform their peers from government schools, and enrolled 681,000 women in community activism - the largest outreach to poor rural women of any Pakistani organisation. That is why the RSPN's work is so critical to the future of the country - for a strong, representative Pakistani state to emerge, it must be grounded in strong local civil society institutions capable of holding it to account and engaging with it constructively.
But like the NSP, the RSPN receives only a fraction of the overall U.S.-U.K. aid budget to Pakistan. The ongoing debate about troop numbers and drone strikes - while important - has served to distract attention from the critical role of development aid in building resilience to radicalisation. Thus, across the region, the obsession with traditional security solutions has arguably been its own worst enemy. As the countdown to withdrawal continues, the international community must strengthen and expand these proven development models. Otherwise, the quagmire will become an abyss.
Dr. Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed is Executive Director of the Institute for Policy Research & Development (IPRD) in London, author of A User's Guide to the Crisis of Civilization (2010) among other books, and writer/presenter of the critically-acclaimed documentary film, The Crisis of Civilization (2011). His work on international terrorism has been used by the 9/11 Commission, the Coroner's Inquiry into 7/7, the US Army Air University, and the UK MoD's Joint Services Command & Staff College. He has also advised the British Foreign Office and the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, and consulted for projects funded by the US State Department, the UK Department for Communities & Local Government.
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In the January/February 2012 issue of Foreign Affairs, Stanford political scientist Stephen Krasner claims that "current U.S. policy toward Pakistan has failed" and recommends that the United States take a radically different approach: credibly threaten to sever all forms of cooperation, including all U.S. aid - military and civilian - to force Pakistan into cooperating with the United States on security matters. Center for Global Development President Nancy Birdsall responds.
Stephen Krasner ("Talk Tough to Pakistan: How to End Islamabad's Defiance," Jan/Feb 2012) wants to change the Pakistani government's behavior. He argues that its failure to cooperate with the United States on Afghanistan and on terrorism is not due to its weakness as a state. Instead, it is a rational response of Pakistan's military leadership, whose priority is to defend itself against India - with a nuclear deterrent and support for terrorists and the Afghan Taliban. Therefore, the only way the United States can win cooperation from Pakistan is to threaten "malign neglect"- cut off military and civilian assistance, sever intelligence cooperation, maintain and possibly escalate drone strikes and initiate unilateral cross-border raids. If that isn't enough, then the U.S. could move on to "active isolation" -- declare Pakistan a state sponsor of terrorism, making it a pariah, and impose sanctions.
If only it were this easy. Krasner fails to mention that the U.S. has tried this approach before. In the 1990s it cut off military and civilian assistance to Pakistan and imposed sanctions in an effort to dissuade Pakistan from developing a nuclear capability. We all know how that story ended. But let's suppose this time the threats or the follow-through worked and brought the military and intelligence establishment to heel in Pakistan. Let's suppose the United States got what it wanted on the security front - helping assure a timely U.S and NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan. Would that solve the problem Pakistan poses for America's security in the long run? No.
What Krasner doesn't say is that the U.S. wants something more than compliance from Pakistan's military and intelligence communities with its immediate security needs. The U.S. wants a capable and stable civilian government that plays by the rules of the international community. It wants a democratic state that would not abuse and misuse its nuclear capability and that would find its way to peaceful relations with India.
In other words the U.S. has a long-run vision for Pakistan, very much in its own interests, as well as a set of short-term demands. In the 2009 Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act (known as Kerry-Lugar Berman, or KLB) Congress recognized the resulting need for a two-track approach. That legislation made U.S. security assistance (not actually authorized in the legislation) conditional on Pakistani cooperation on security matters. But its fundamental purpose, and the money it authorized for civilian aid, was the rebuilding of a serious partnership with the civilian government and the people of Pakistan. With KLB as the framework, since 2009 the Obama Administration has engaged fully with the civilian government and with civil society and private sector leaders in Pakistan on a range of issues -- energy, water, agriculture, macroeconomic issues, private investment and trade.
In short, the purpose of U.S. civilian aid to Pakistan is to help build a better state. It is not to bribe or reward the "government" (neither the military nor the civilian leadership). Withholding military aid would likely not punish the military anyway. It would, however, reduce the resources available to the civilian government, since the evidence is that the military can get what it wants from the government's overall available resources. And withholding civilian aid obviously would not punish the military. It would, however, take away a modest tool of America - investing to educate kids, create jobs, and strengthen civil society and representative institutions and thus give Pakistan a better shot at becoming a stable, prosperous and democratic country in the long term.
There are of course real questions about the effectiveness of U.S engagement with the civilian government - with aid and dialogue - given the prevailing suspicion there of U.S. motives, the inherent difficulties of operating in a complex and insecure environment, and the bureaucratic shortcomings of the U.S. aid system itself. But then those are reasons to put relatively more emphasis on other forms of engagement: trade, investment, and encouraging the normalization of relations with India. They do not warrant bullying the weak civilian government that the U.S. wants to strengthen.
Krasner begins and ends his article by invoking the testimony of former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen during his last appearance before the Senate Armed Services Committee. Krasner is right in pointing out that Mullen was critical of Pakistan's role in supporting extremist organizations and the need to get tough with Pakistan. Yet, Krasner fails to mention the conclusion Mullen reached in his statement. Mullen recognized that the U.S. has a variety of objectives in Pakistan and the region, and that by focusing too intensely on short term interests, the U.S. will end up short-changing itself over the long haul: "We must also move beyond counter-terrorism to address long-term foundations of Pakistan's success - to help the Pakistanis find realistic and productive ways to achieve their aspirations of prosperity and security." Mullen concludes, "Isolating the people of Pakistan from the world right now would be counter-productive."
Nancy Birdsall is the founding president of the Center for Global Development, a Washington, DC based think tank.
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At the International Afghanistan Conference in Bonn, Germanylast week, 85 countries affirmed their commitment to Afghanistan for the decadefollowing the 2014 transition, and highlighted gains over the past 10 years inthe areas of security, women's rights and the capacity of governmentinstitutions. They also acknowledged the reversible nature of this progress, aswell as the significant work left to be accomplished. Previousdiscussions on Afghanistanwithin the international community have exclusively addressed the transitionperiod between now and 2014. This conference introduced the concept of a muchneeded blueprint for the years following the transition: the "transformation decade"of 2015-2024. This blueprint details two initial milestones: the May 2012 NATOsummit in Chicago, where an announcement is anticipated regarding long-term AfghanNational Security Force funding (ANSF), and a July 2012 conference in Japan, wheremore details regarding international economic support will be announced. Thoughthe December 5 Bonn conference, eclipsed in part by Pakistan'slast minute withdrawal, fell short of announcing major breakthroughs in thepeace process (against high expectationscreated by Bonn 2001), it was an important first step in acknowledging themagnitude of the task that remains unfinished. Now that we have affirmed our longterm commitment in spirit, tangible demonstrations are essential in order tobuild momentum and avoid the perception of empty promises. The internationalcommunity and Afghanistanshould proceed to the next step of defining the first concrete details in theblueprint's foundation.
As the 2011 Bonn conferenceconclusions stated, "this renewed partnership between Afghanistan and theInternational Community entails firm mutual commitments in the areas ofgovernance, security, the peace process, economic and social development andregional cooperation." The United States should demonstrate this long-termcommitment to Afghanistan in the form of a formal strategic partnershipendorsed by both nations and announced as soon as possible. It should reflect planned troop reductions (33,000by the end of summer 2012), but maintain U.S. advisory and counterterrorismcapabilities beyond 2014, through the next Afghan political administration in2019. This force would sustain the tempo of counterterrorist operations andprovide professional advice and enablers to the Afghan army and police. Itshould number 10,000 to 25,000 personnel and could be reduced as the ANSFdemonstrate their post-transition competence through the 2014 elections andinto the next political administration. U.S. personnel numbers could alsobe reduced by coalition contributions. Counterterrorist operations should focuson al-Qaeda's attempts to relocate in remote areas of Afghanistan, aswell as target the leadership of insurgent groups who refuse to reconcile andcontinue to challenge the stability of the government. Advisory and enablingforces should focus on the professional development and training of the Afghanarmy and police, as well as their effective performance in the field.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton,in her openingremarks at Bonn stated: "...the United Statesis prepared to stand with the Afghan people, but Afghans themselves must alsomeet the commitments they have made, and we look forward to working with themto embrace reform, lead their own defense, and strengthen their democracy."Afghans should consider improving their government by empoweringprovincial-level authorities and reducing corruption. Both measures areessential to the condition-setting that must take place prior to seriousnegotiations with insurgents. Each province should be granted the right toselect its own governor and to employ independent fiscal, legislative, andconflict resolution powers. Provincial government employees should be hiredfrom within the province and should answer to provincial leaders. Internationalfinancial aid for projects like medical clinics, roads, schools and electricityshould be funneled directly to the provinces in order to create rapid publicsupport. These measures, over time, would bring the power and resources of thegovernment to parts of the country where Kabul'sleadership is viewed as corrupt and incompetent as a result of nepotism,cronyism and its management of funds. Atthe same time, anti-corruption efforts from within the government must beintensified. Afghans should enact laws consistent with The Afghan NationalAnti-Corruption Strategy. Continuedcoalition and international assistance through this decade in the form ofadvice, investigation, and prosecution is essential. More effective localgovernance and courts would also serve to undermine the appeal of localconflict resolution currently offered by insurgents.
Some reforms empowering provincialand district governance have already been planned. In the spring of 2010, theAfghan Government's Independent Directorate of Local Governance published its Sub-nationalGovernance Policy. This policy is comprehensive and, if resourced,supported, and given time, would significantly enhance the contribution oflocal government to Afghan quality of life. This will take time and require thecontinued commitment of the UnitedStates and the coalition to educate Afghancivil servants. This policy appropriately calls for and schedules elections ofprovincial, district, and village councils and should be modified toincorporate the election of provincial and district governors. Should Afghansdesire these measures, the constitution would have to be modified through theassembly of a constitutional loya jirga. This initiative could be a part of Afghanistan'snational dialogue in the run-up to the 2014 election and perhaps lead to apost-election loya jirga.
Without U.S.and international commitment through the end of this decade, Afghanistan will likely fall backinto the civil war it experienced in the early 1990s. As fighting spreads, India and Pakistan will back their Afghanproxies and the conflict could intensify. This situation would not only createopportunities for safe haven for extremists, but also invite a confrontationbetween adversarial and nuclear-armed states. The potential for such an outcomeruns counter to U.S.and coalition interests.
Bonn 2001 began a journey toward Afghanistan'sstability and representative government that has demanded great sacrifice byAfghans, Americans, and other members of the coalition. Bonn 2011 continues thejourney and acknowledges the requirement for long term international commitmentand Afghan resolve. The journey has come far from its humble beginning, butrequires sustained international support and American leadership to remain oncourse.
COL Mark Fields is aMilitary Fellow at the Center for Strategic Research, part of National DefenseUniversity's Institute for National Strategic Studies. He has served in Afghanistan and is theauthor of "AReview of the 2001 Bonn Conference and Application to the Road Ahead inAfghanistan." The views expressed are his alone, and do not necessarilyrepresent those of National Defense University, the Department of Defense, orthe U.S. Government.
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In October 2009, President Obama signed the Kerry-Lugar-Berman (KLB) Act into law, thereby authorizing $7.5 billion in civilian assistance to Pakistan.
More than two years later, however, KLB has seemingly produced more acrimony than aid.
With only a relatively small percentage of KLB aid released, and with that aid having a minimal public impact, many Pakistanis complain that Washington's promise of expanded development aid rings hollow. Meanwhile, with the United States mired in economic malaise, many Americans are increasingly uneasy about sending any tax dollars to a nation they believe sheltered Osama Bin Laden and maintains links with other anti-American militants.
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As the dust settles from the daring U.S. raid on Osama Bin Laden's lair in Abbottabad, a cantonment town just a few hours from Islamabad, serious rifts are obvious between Pakistan and America. Both countries need each other for a host of different reasons, and, at the same time, resent this mutual dependency that has locked both in a deadly embrace.
In the aftermath of the bin Laden raid, U.S. officials and citizenry alike want to abandon Pakistan, and indeed, the bin Laden affair was the most recent in a string of revelations that cast doubt on Pakistan's reliability as a partner in the war on terror. Pakistan's government, armed forces and citizens are no less vexed with the United States after the raid for equally valid reasons. And it is well past time for both Americans and Pakistanis to consider each other's views and come to an accommodation.
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While the unfolding disaster at Japan's Fukushima reactor riveted the world, Pakistan quietly observed an important milestone in its own nuclear power program. Pakistan's Chashma 2 nuclear power plant commenced operation and was connected to the electricity grid on March 15, just four days after the earthquake and tsunami struck Japan and initiated what is now one of the worst nuclear accidents on record. Last week, on the eve of his visit to China, Pakistani prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani commissioned Chashma 2 and indicated that China would construct two additional nuclear reactors at the same site. With Pakistanis spending hours each day in the dark due to "load shedding," a euphemism for managed power outages, never has energy been more critical for Pakistan.
According to figures from the Pakistan Electric Power Company, Pakistan's current electricity supply deficit averages about 3000 megawatts, which is probably enough to power about 3 million households in Pakistan. This shortage exacts a high toll on the Pakistani people, especially in the summer when temperatures can exceed 115 degrees. The more insidious effects of Pakistan's electric shortfalls are economic. The country now finds itself in a catch 22: the moribund economy limits large investments in new or rehabilitated electric generation capacity, but won't register dramatic improvement without more and consistent electricity.
Pakistan's ability to meet its energy requirements indigenously is constrained by the relatively poor quality of its coal, the feast or famine nature of hydroelectric power in a monsoon climate, and the political and security challenges of tapping effectively the natural gas reserves in its Baluchistan province. Pakistan will have to seek energy security through a mixture of external and internal sources. As one element of a long-term plan for energy diversity, nuclear power makes sense for Pakistan, as it does for many states. But it is an ineffective solution to Pakistan's current energy needs.
The late Obama administration envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke sparked an uproar when he indicated in 2009 that U.S. development assistance would be channeled primarily through local Pakistani NGOs, instead of traditional partners: American contractors and the government of Pakistan. The Pakistani government -- one of a handful of governments receiving direct budgetary support from the U.S. government -- vehemently protested. American development contractors faced the cancellation of contracts and became concerned about losing business in Pakistan, and their jobs. Even a USAID official leaked a dissent memo to USA Today, stating that "very few Pakistani firms and NGOs can currently satisfy the stringent management financial management audit requirements for USAID project funding."
Lately, the dust seems to have settled. Recently, the USAID Inspector General released an oversight report, detailing 54 awards worth $269 million that have been made to Pakistani NGOs. Last week, USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah indicated that the emphasis on NGOs is a general shift in the way that USAID does business -- not just in Pakistan, but around the world: "We are now at a point where nearly 40 percent of our funding goes to non-government organizations. And in each of our countries, through all of our missions, we're setting specific targets so that we can increase the percentage of support that we provide to local organizations and local entrepreneurs and local NGOs."
The push towards partnering directly with local NGOs makes sense, at least in theory: locals understand their needs, their context, and potential solutions better than foreign contractors, and do not have the high overhead and security costs associated with Americans working abroad, especially in hostile environments.
Editor's note: This is Part I of a two-part series focusing on aid provision in conflict zones, with tomorrow's edition to focus on Afghanistan.
Although the White House was cautiously optimistic in its recent strategy review on Afghanistan, even for seasoned AfPak watchers, it can be difficult to discern exactly what the U.S. strategy is towards Afghanistan. The sound bite summary "clear, hold, build" may be simplistic, but it still offers a useful starting place to evaluate U.S. and NATO efforts. The "clear" and "hold" represent the straightforward ideas (in theory if not execution) of taking and holding ground, operations with which militaries are well-acquainted. The real issue, and the key to success or failure, is defining what "build" really means, and examining how the United States and NATO are "building" in Afghanistan.
While many factors in Afghanistan (and Pakistan, for that matter) are unique, in a larger sense, the challenges faced there are the same issues, with new faces, that the United States has been long been struggling with in other countries. The U.S. government clearly hopes to "build" the Afghangovernment and military up to the point that it will take the lead in battlingthe Taliban. For decades now, in countries around the world, the tool most frequently called on to "build" countries is aid. Sometimes aid comes in the form of humanitarian, short-term assistance, i.e. emergency food, medicine,water, and shelter, aimed at stabilizing crisis situations. In other cases, aidcomes in the form of "official development assistance" or ODA, most often adirect cash transfer from a donor government or donor institution to a recipient country, usually in the form of grants or low-interest loans, and aimed at promoting long-term growth by developing infrastructure, education,and more. In the case of Afghanistan (and Pakistan), aid to the region hasconsisted of a mixture of both humanitarian and strategic (ODA) aid.
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At a recent event on Pakistan co-sponsored by Brookings and the U.S. Institute of Peace, several panelists cogently stressed the need for greater transparency on the parts of Washington and Islamabad as a necessary step in forging better relations.
Inevitably, the sad story of Pakistan's F-16s emerged during a panel discussion. In the early 1980s, the United States agreed to sell Pakistan F-16 fighter jets. This decision was taken when the United States worked closely with Pakistan to repel the Soviets from Afghanistan. The F-16 was the most important air platform in Pakistan's air force and it was the most likely delivery vehicle of a nuclear weapon. When nuclear proliferation-related sanctions (under the Pressler Amendment) came into force in 1990, the U.S. government cancelled the sales of several F-16s. Pakistanis routinely cite this as hard evidence of American perfidy to underscore the point that Washington is not a trustworthy ally.
With the lapse of time, many American and Pakistani interlocutors alike rehearse redacted variants of this sordid affair for various purposes. But I was dismayed when a U.S. official (speaking in his personal capacity) did so at the U.S. Institute of Peace event. He stressed, with suitable outrage, that the United States unfairly deprived Pakistan of the F-16s it purchased, demurred from reimbursing Pakistan when sanctions precluded delivery, and even charged Pakistan for the storage fees while the United States sought a third-party buyer for the planes. This particular individual has a long-standing relationship with South Asia and extensive experience in the region, which made the stylized telling all the more troublesome.
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dissection of the Obama administration's Afghanistan strategy review
from last year continues, lost in the debate is the reality for Afghans trapped in the middle
of this nine-year war. For them, seeking
assistance provided by either side in the conflict has become almost as
dangerous as going without it.
It's largely taken as a given that all players in the Afghan theater are "humanitarian." The U.S. Army, NATO allies, the Afghan government, and even armed opposition groups all highlight their so-called humanitarian activities as they vie for the hearts and minds of the civilian population.